4 Things I Wish I Learned in My NP Clinical Rotations

Looking back on life as a nurse practitioner student from the perspective of a now experienced NP makes me wish I’d done a few things differently during my time in school. I’m not taking about major regrets here, but rather a few small adjustments that would have created a smoother transition to practice. The most crucial of these? Making the most of my clinical experience. 

Your NP program clinical experience is hands-down the most important part of your nurse practitioner program. Clinical hours deserve the majority of your attention and energy (although your nursing theory professor may tell you otherwise) in school. As an NP student, you have two options when it comes to approaching your clinical experience. The first is to be an observer, more of a fly on the wall. The second it to get your hands dirty (theoretically, that is). Taking the latter approach, although nerve-wracking as a newbie, is worth it. 

Here are a few things you should prioritize learning in your next clinical rotation. I wish I had. 

1. Suturing Skills

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Many new nurse practitioner graduates come to me flustered. Job postings seek NPs with suturing know-how. Unfortunately, many students don’t get a chance to learn to do so during their NP program. Or, some students may be too intimidated to accept the challenge of learning. 

Take advantage of any and every opportunity to learn to suture. It is a skill that is likely come in handy no matter your specialty. And, it can be a difficult thing to learn on the job. Spread the word at your clinical placement site that you are looking to improve your suturing skills. A physician or nurse practitioner other than your preceptor may be willing to help you learn when the opportunity presents itself. 

2. ECG and X-Ray Interpretation

The good thing about mastering ECG interpretation is that it is something you can practice on your own. The bad news? It takes a lot of time and effort to become an ECG expert. Practice as much as possible throughout your clinical placements. Also, purchase an ECG reading handbook or find a reputable online tool to assist you in your efforts. You may even consider enrolling in a live course or attending courses on cardiology at a national nurse practitioner conference. However you learn best, spend some time mastering ECG interpretation during your time in school. 

The same goes for X-ray reading. Practice makes perfect. Get your eyes on as many X-Rays as possible in your clinical placements. The more X-rays you see, the more likely you are recognize those that are normal and those that are not. 

3. Career Connections

Developing quality professional relationships with your clinical preceptors not only helps you get the most out of your education, it also serves as a valuable resource when you graduate. Former preceptors make excellent references when it comes time to securing your first nurse practitioner position. Clinical preceptors may also have other connections that can prove helpful in your job search. Get to know your preceptors. Prove yourself as a hard worker who, although still learning, tenaciously seeks to become a knowledgeable and skilled NP. 

4. Procedural Proficiency

Suturing isn’t the only skill you’ll need to know as a nurse practitioner. From I&D of abscesses to performing punch biopsies, depending on your specialty you will rely on other procedures in your practice. Learn as many of these in your clinical placements as possible. Rather than simply observing, ask if you can perform the procedure yourself with your preceptor observing. Hone your skills so that as you enter practice you will feel more confident. It’s much easier to master procedural skills when you’re expected to be a learner rather than on your fist job. 


Nurse practitioners- what do you wish you had learned in your NP program clinical placements? Share your advice with NP students by posting a comment.


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6 thoughts on “4 Things I Wish I Learned in My NP Clinical Rotations”

  1. Newly enrolled NP student starting in the fall. Trying to secure clinical placement for the spring semester. Are hospitals better or clinics? Are MD’s better or NP preceptors?

  2. Great question! As far as hospital vs. clinic, choose the setting where you are most interested in working. If you aren’t sure, select a variety of types of clinical placements to help you hone your interests.

    I would select a mix of NP and MD preceptors. I think each offers a unique perspective and will help you become a well rounded NP. 

  3. I am in my final clinical rotation now of NP school. I worked with NP’s, an MD, and a PA. I wanted some of each so that way I wanted to know how the other half lived. I think it is important to see all sides of a conversation and to see how other people work. It is really cool to get a different perspective on each role. Good luck to you in school.

  4. Ray Barlow, AGACNP-BC

    One of the things for an ACNP is to talk to the Chief CRNA or Doc over the anesthesia department to see if you can spend the day going from room to room and intubate, or start lines. ER docs are great teachers as well as NP’s working in the fast track areas of ER’s. You can suture, do LP’s, start lines. etc There are all kinds of opportunities, the key is to be proactive in your search for teachers.

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