Looking back three years ago to my very first clinical placement, I wish I had been given some advice on what to expect and some tips for getting along with my preceptor. It’s a challenging time for student nurses. Most of us have never been in a situation where we are the ones responsible for someone’s life. Well, that’s how it seemed anyway.

In this article I share some advice I think could be useful for you beforen start your clinical placement.

Some advice for your first clinical placement

  1. Be prepared and have a solid support system in place

You are likely to encounter situations and cases you have never been exposed to before. Take a moment to process these experiences and, if needed, vent to your family and friends (while protecting patient confidentiality, of course).

  1. Introduce yourself to the healthcare team and be a positive team member

Introducing yourself helps start a friendly and open relationship with your colleagues. Being a positive team member makes you stand out as someone who wants to be there. And you won’t be labeled as just ‘the student’.

  1. Mistakes happen

We are only human! Try not to dwell on your mistakes. Instead focus on what you could have done better and how you can learn from the situation. Don’t be afraid to talk through your mistakes with your preceptor; they are there to support and guide you on how to learn from your mistakes.

  1. Be prepared for your first patient death

Watching families and friends in emotional pain while their loved one dies is a hard pill to swallow. You may be present for the deaths of babies, children, adults and older people. I found the best way to support someone who is grieving is by providing privacy and comfort. This may involve being ‘all ears’ or simply providing cups of tea. It all makes a difference.

  1. Be ready for the long hours

If you’re anything like me you may not be used to working 8-12 hour shifts for three to four days a week. Standing and walking for eight-plus hours, holding your bladder, moving and handling patients weighing more than 120kgs; these are just a few of the physical battles you may deal with each day. So it is important to take care of yourself too. Many nurses develop back problems from lifting patients, so learn to use proper techniques and don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand. A good pair of comfortable shoes is also essential!

  1. Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and ask to do new things

We’re there to learn, right? So don’t shy away or expect the nurse to always come to you. Be assertive and step out of your shell. The best learning happens with practice, so give it a try while you have supervision.

  1. Volunteer to make beds and hand out meals

I know these aren’t the best jobs and you’re probably thinking I didn’t come to nursing school to make a bed, however you are part of a team. Helping out your team members and doing little jobs really makes the difference. It shows people you are a helping set of hands and are willing to do pretty much anything.

  1. Learn what to do if there is an emergency

It’s easy to feel like you’re in the way of nurses and doctors when there’s an emergency. Ask your preceptor what your role should be if an emergency occurs. This may just be clearing and decluttering the surroundings or being a runner. But be ready to put yourself out there and ask if you can do the vital signs or assist in other ways.

  1. Have a notebook in your pocket to jot down key words

I’ve found it helpful to have a notebook in my pocket to jot down medications, illnesses, procedures, and anything I need to learn at a later date. It’s hard to remember things when you have a busy schedule, so this helps get around that.

  1. Workplace bullying can happen

Students can sometimes be seen as a burden for nurses who don’t want a long, dragged-out shift. My advice is to tell your preceptor upfront what you can currently do within your scope of practice, and what you would like to achieve from the shift. This will hopefully sway the preceptor to seeing you as an asset rather than a burden.

Try not to get frustrated if you have a new preceptor daily and you are repeating the same small tasks each day. Your preceptor needs to see that you are competent doing these tasks in order to build trust.

If bullying does occur, try to raise the topic with the preceptor in a nice manner. However, this is way easier said than done. Don’t suffer in silence. I’d recommend speaking to either the charge nurse or your nursing school clinical mentor if an issue arises. And don’t leave it until it’s too late to solve.

Also, try not to lose focus on the real reason why you are there.

Top tips for getting along with your preceptor

Discuss your weekly goals and objectives

Letting your preceptor know your weekly goals is essential as it gives them direction on what they need to teach you. Tell them what you’re not so confident in doing and what you would like to learn, so they can make sure you get hands-on practice.

Give them feedback on what you enjoyed learning and what you found helpful

Preceptors like to hear feedback just as much as students do. Let them know if they are doing a good job and ask them for feedback too. For example: “Did I do this well? or “What can I do better next time?”

Answer call bells and phone calls

Show initiative by answering not only your call bells but also other nurses’ call bells. And, if you are near the phone, answer phone calls too. There is nothing more frustrating to staff than seeing a student sitting next to a ringing phone and not answering it.

Answer the phone professionally by introducing yourself and naming the ward. Always take a message or pass the phone on. And always remember to report information back to your nurse.

Ask questions and show you are interested in being there

Instead of clock-watching, show that you’re willing and excited to be there learning. When drawing up medications or doing an assessment, ask reasonable questions that show you have insight and critical thinking skills. For example, ask why something is happening and what the outcome will be, as this shows forward thinking.

Home baking

Home baking works a treat! This may seem like a bribe, but it really is a great way to show your appreciation for your preceptor’s support and time.

Author: Mady Watt is currently a third-year nursing student at the University of Auckland’s School of Nursing.

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