How To Not Be Useless During Nursing School Clinicals

By Nursing Student and ThriveAP Contributor Ashley Prince

Harsh title? Maybe. But please don’t judge this post by its cover and take a second to read a little more into it. In my accelerated BSN program, I started clinicals in my second week of school. You want to know how much I could do? I could give bed baths, change linens, chart I&O, and . . . . that’s about it. I felt useless.

Week by week, my nursing school classmates and I add more skills like assessing heart, lung and bowel sounds to our repertoires. Ten weeks in and I’m now able to do my own assessments, flush and pull IV’s, change wound dressings and insert NG tubes and Foleys. By Thanksgiving, I’ll be passing out meds. While it may seem like that’s a solid number of skills to learn and master in two months, it doesn’t always feel like it.

Each week I go into clinicals and my supervising nurses ask what I can do. Some are great and work with the skills I have, letting me practice on real, live, breathing humans (they also laugh when I get overly excited about removing stitches but hey, it’s a rare occurrence when I’m actually qualified to do something!) Others write me off the second I say I’m not allowed to pass their meds, or make me feel like a burden since I require adult supervision. In other words: some days I feel like I’m actually working to become a nurse, and others I feel like I’m trying to get my money’s worth out of a Halloween costume.

So what do you do if you’re labeled as “useless” during clinicals?

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Start off by asking the nurse how you can help. A simple, “My name is Ashley, I’m your nursing student today. I’m assigned to patients 1 and 2, and I can do A, B, and C. What else can I do to help you today?” can go a long way to winning an under-caffeinated nurse’s heart.

Follow the aides/assistants around. These guys know A LOT. Among other things, they’ve taught me the best way to ambulate wobbly patients, how to empty a Hemo-vac, and the easiest way to get those damn gown sleeves over the IV arm (a HIGHLY underrated skill).

When you find a good teacher on the floor, latch onto them like a leech. I started hanging out with the rounding wound care nurse just because she likes students. Then I realized I actually don’t mind nasty, necrotic wounds and help her with most of the floor’s complicated dressing changes and Wound VACs. I’ve learned valuable skills, got hands-on patient experience I wouldn’t have otherwise received, and may have found an interesting niche.

Take every opportunity to practice a new skill, no matter how nervous you are as a nursing student. When the opportunity does arise to prove your worth, take it! A nurse or instructor will always be there the first time you try something, and my belief is that it’s better to dive headfirst and screw it up than never try at all. How else are you going to learn?

How are everyone else’s clincals going? Are you running around like crazy or actually able to take a bathroom break? Let me know in the comments! 


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