girlatcomputer_sm.jpgAs the new fall semester starts for thousands of nursing students around the world, many are concerned or anxious about their upcoming clinical rotations. The question is often asked by our student listeners, “How can I make the most of this year’s clinical rotations when I don’t like the specialties covered this semester?”

First of all, no one is expected to enjoy every aspect of the varied career options that comprise the field of nursing. The issue is not that you will enjoy every aspect but that you learn from the experience. Part of what you learn may be that you don’t want to work in pediatrics or psych.

Here are 8 tips to make sure you get the most out of the rotation, ANY ROTATION!

Be willing to work: Come prepared to spend your time working. Despite the time you think you are spending, no nursing student gets enough time in a clinical setting before graduation. That means you must make the most of the time you have. Be prepared when you hit the floor. If offered the opportunity, look over your patient charts beforehand and plan your day.

Keep an open mind: I’ve heard more than one nursing student make a statement like, “I thought I was going to hate this rotation, but now I think I want to be a long term care nurse and work in a nursing home.” I’m serious. A closed mind will be unable to learn anything. Work to remove your preconceived notions and focus on what is going to be positive about each rotation. Take 5 minutes and make a list of the pros if you have to.

Remember the golden rule: You are there to learn, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a helping hand to the unit. A little good will goes a long way. If you see someone who needs help with something, lend a hand! This shows a couple of things. First, you have demonstrated that you aren’t afraid of hard work. If you decide you like the working environment, you have put yourself in a position to be hired. Second, what goes around comes around. When you help someone, they will remember to help you. When a nurse has some interesting skill, procedure, or wound come up, they will be open to inviting you to come take a look. Help someone change some sheets and increase your opportunities to learn.

Divide and conquer: Team work with you fellow students is vital to success in nursing school. Working together in study groups, watching out for last minute scheduling changes, and sharing clinical experiences are all tried and true methods for nursing school success. In the clinical setting, you will need your classmates to proofread your nursing notes, patient care reports, and patient goals and interventions. They will also offer you additional learning opportunities by “sharing” their patients and

List your clinical needs: Knowing what you need to learn will help focus your efforts. Make a list of the clinical learning opportunities that you need, either for competencies or for you own satisfaction. If you need more practice placing a foley catheter, add it to your list. If you want to focus on wound care or replacing dressings, add it to the list. Review the list every week and make changes, marking off those items you’ve completed and adding others as they occur to you.

Use the Instructor: Share you successes and failures with your instructor. They are there to help you succeed. Tell them the areas in which you need improvement. They’ll watch the clinical opportunities for the class and be able to steer you towards the opportunities that will help you reach your goals. Also, ask the instructor to tell you where they think you need to improve. Sometimes, even though you have made a list, you miss something, a blind spot in your clinical education. Your instructor can help you identify these blind spots and help you move forward.

Have resources handy: Students need two things every clinical day. First they need a top quality drug guide. I recommend subscribing to an electronic drug guide like the one provided by Lexi-Comp for nurses. They can be updated regularly (much more often than books) and a good one provides all of the information a nurse needs, all carried in a PDA or on a smart phone. The second item needed is a clinical procedure review guide. You will probably already have one that is part of your textbook package. This gives you a resource to look over when you get a patient needing an intervention you haven’t performed before or haven’t performed often. With these two items, you will be ready for anything.

Know your staff: This goes hand in hand with the “golden rule” tip above. Get to know your staff. Not just the nurses but the techs, CNAs, pharmacists, and unit clerks. Nothing happens in a vacuum. A well run nursing unit is a team effort. Learn people’s names, say hi, and be respectful and friendly. This will pay off when you need something for your patient and can’t find the supplies, need an item from the computer, or just need an extra pair of hands to do something.

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