Summary: This extensive guide to nursing school clinicals outlines what clinicals are and why they are important to your future nursing career. It also explains how clinical rotations work in the Marian University ABSN program and how they set up students for success in the nursing field.
Clinicals play a pivotal part in your learning experience in nursing school. Not only do they incorporate all the nursing theories and skills you’re learning about in your coursework and skills and simulation labs, they also offer a first-hand look at what it’s really like to work as a nurse in a variety of real-world patient care scenarios.
For that reason, students often want to know what to expect during nursing school clinicals. To give you a better idea of what lies ahead to make the most out of the experience, we compiled this extensive guide to nursing school clinicals. In it, we delve into exactly why clinicals are vital to your future nursing career and how clinical rotations through the Marian University ABSN program uniquely position you for success in the profession.
What are clinicals, and why are they important to nursing education?
Before we get into the specific benefits of clinical experiences through the Marian University ABSN program and how clinicals are advantageous to your future nursing career, it’s important to understand what clinical rotations are in the first place.
Clinical rotations involve nursing students interacting with patients under the supervision of clinical faculty or preceptors in local healthcare facilities. Often working across specialty areas, nursing students put into practice everything they’ve learned in their nursing theory courses and nursing skills and simulation labs in terms of how to interact with and care for patients in a real-world healthcare setting.
Marian ABSN students begin observing working nurses their first semester in the program in multiple 8- to 12-hour clinical shifts each week (we’ll get more into why that’s useful to your future nursing career below).
During their first few clinical rotations, students usually take on basic nursing duties like charting and changing bed linens. As students progress through their program, they become more responsible for managing complex clinical tasks.
Why are clinical rotations important?
Clinical rotations are a vital aspect of any BSN program because they allow nursing students the opportunity to experience the day-to-day intricacies involved in complex healthcare environments. Such exposures set them up for success in their future nursing careers.
Simply put, out of all the components of a nursing school’s curriculum, clinical rotations offer the best representation of what it’s like to work as a nurse because they involve observing and caring for real patients in real healthcare environments. In no other portion of their nursing school experience do students get a more nuanced view of how the nursing theory and skills they read about and practice in their nursing labs are applied on the job.
Among other things, during clinical rotations students gain experience with:
- Following appropriate protocol when handling sensitive patient information.
- Learning how to communicate with patients, their families, and other members of their care team.
- Relating to patients on a personal level while exhibiting genuine caring and empathetic behavior.
- Performing safe therapeutic interventions.
Marian ABSN Clinical Breakdown
As mentioned above, one of the reasons nursing students complete clinical rotations is to gain exposure to a variety of clinical practice areas so they can be prepared for myriad healthcare scenarios in their future nursing careers. The Marian University ABSN program immerses students in diverse areas of nursing practice by way of the following rotations that allow them to assist in patient care while working alongside expert clinical instructors.
|1||NSG 201 Health Assessment and Communication|
|1||NSG 241 Fundamentals|
|2||NSG 331 Care of the Adult Client in Community /Acute Care Settings I|
|2||NSG 335 Mental Health Nursing|
|3||NSG 307 Care of the Childbearing Client in Community/Acute Care Settings|
|3||NSG 317 Care of the Pediatric Client in Community /Acute Care Settings|
|3||NSG 431 Care of the Adult Client in Community/Acute Care Settings II|
|4||NSG 441 Leadership/Community in the Nursing Profession|
|4||NSG 451 Clinical Immersion Experience|
What are the specifics of clinicals through the Marian ABSN program, and why do each of those matter?
Now that you know what clinical rotations are in general and the specific clinical courses you’ll take as a Marian ABSN student, let’s look at a few of the specific components of the Marian ABSN program and how they work together to help you become a well-rounded nurse.
As a student in the Marian ABSN program, you can expect clinical rotations to:
- Comprise more than 700 hours with supportive instructors.
- Begin halfway through the first semester of the program.
- Provide real-world experiences in diverse specialty areas and clinical settings.
- Take place at St. Vincent in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Saint Thomas Health in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Include opportunities to shadow healthcare leaders through our leadership clinical.
As you’ll see, each component plays a unique role in helping students become competent and compassionate nurses ready to enter the workforce.
Comprise more than 700 hours with supportive instructors
While enrolled in the Marian ABSN program, you can expect to participate in more than 700 hours of clinical rotations over four full-time semesters. This is broken down into 8- to 12-hour clinical shifts multiple days each week — the same shift length you may end up experiencing during a typical week on the job as a nurse.
This schedule not only gives you a realistic idea of what your day-to-day might look like as a nurse; it also ensures you’ll get plenty of face time with fellow nursing students and clinical instructors. The student to instructor ratio for the Marian ABSN program is 10:1, which means you can expect to receive personalized instruction in real-world healthcare settings.
Begin halfway through the first semester of the program
Many traditional BSN programs take four years complete, with clinical rotations typically starting during the last year or semester in the program after you finish nursing theory coursework and labs in earlier semesters. As we alluded to earlier, one of the benefits of enrolling in an ABSN program like the one Marian University offers is that due to the program’s accelerated timeline, clinical rotations begin the first semester.
This fact is beneficial to your future career as a nurse for a couple reasons:
First, not only does starting clinicals so early in an ABSN program allow you to start learning the basics of interacting with patients sooner, it also affords you more opportunities to put those theories and skills into the context of real-world patient care situations.
In clinical, you’re really doing it. You’ve already practiced in simulation and in skills lab. In clinical, you’re in it. You’re assigned two patients — those are your patients. It’s great because you get to put forth the knowledge that you’ve learned and actually get to use it.
-Allysia Campbell, ABSN Class of 2019
Additionally, experiencing clinical rotations earlier in an ABSN program gives you an earlier opportunity to determine if nursing is indeed the right career path for you. Imagine getting halfway through a traditional BSN program without ever stepping foot in a healthcare facility to interact with patients only to discover nursing wasn’t for you after all!
Provide real-world experiences in diverse specialty areas and clinical settings
As a Marian ABSN student, you can expect to complete clinical rotations under the guidance of expert instructors in a variety of specialty areas that include:
- Adult Health
- Obstetrics and Pediatrics
- Acute and Long-term Care
- Mental and Behavioral Health
Participating in patient care scenarios in such diverse clinical settings means you can “try on” different types of nursing specialties. Depending on your career aspirations before nursing school, this may help you narrow down the list of nursing jobs you’d like to pursue after graduation. Conversely, it may also help you cast a wider net and consider a branch of nursing you might not have otherwise considered. For example, maybe you start your nursing education wanting to work in labor and delivery but end up loving the emergency room.
“I’ve been in the hospital setting, on a medical surgical floor; in a mental hospital, which was a huge change for me; all the way to a wound clinic. It’s a much different setting than a hospital setting. I’ve been in the NICU and pediatrics. …The Marian ABSN program works hard to get you to see as much as you can,” says Shelbi Auman, ABSN Class of 2017.
Take place at St. Vincent in Indianapolis and Saint Thomas Health in Nashville
- Dignity of the individual
- Peace and justice
- Responsible stewardship
Like Marian University, Ascension Health System believes in the power of holistic nursing education — that is, treating not just patients’ bodies, but their minds and spirits as well. Experiencing clinical rotations in institutions that embody this mission can help you develop the empathetic and compassionate care qualities necessary for excelling in the nursing profession.
St. Vincent At-a-Glance
St. Vincent operates 20 health ministries, a major medical complex, and several joint ventures and clinical affiliates across Southern and Central Indiana. As an ABSN student, you can expect to gain unprecedented clinical experiences working alongside some of the best patient care teams in the healthcare industry.
Saint Thomas At-a-Glance
Saint Thomas Medical Partners, a physician-led medical group in Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, operates 99 locations. In addition to completing many of your clinical rotations at one of its nine facilities based in and around Nashville, Tennessee, our learning site is on the fifth floor of Saint Thomas West, granting you access to key clinical faculty at one of the best healthcare employers in Tennessee.
Why are a school’s clinical partnerships so important?
If you make the most of your time during your clinical shifts, your rotations through St. Vincent and Saint Thomas Health can help you build your professional network and find a job after you graduate. Working with top healthcare providers through our program opens career doors for you not just in Indy and Nashville, but nationwide through any of Ascension’s partner hospital networks across in the country.
“From the first day of orientation — before you even start your first semester — a St. Vincent representative meets with ABSN students to tell you how excited they are to have you not only as a student, but as a part of the St. Vincent experience,” says Kristen Walker, ABSN Class of 2019. “That carries on through your senior year. Since you complete your clinicals at St. Vincent you’re looked at more highly for jobs within their hospital network.”
Include opportunities to shadow healthcare leaders through our leadership clinical
A big part of the mission of our ABSN program is to prepare students to enter the workforce equipped with the highest standards of patient care and ready to play a leadership role in the profession. In fact, it’s primarily why we’ve integrated a clinical rotation into our ABSN curriculum dedicated solely to leadership development.
During their last semester in our program, ABSN students complete the leadership clinical (NSG 441), which involves job shadowing a member of the management staff within St. Vincent or Saint Thomas Health. As part of this unique clinical experience, nursing students can expect to get an inside look at the day-to-day job responsibilities of the hospital management staff member they’re paired with. This could include everything from participating in meetings with executive leadership, hiring interviews, and having a hand in hospital projects.
“It really opens their eyes to a different side of nursing. Getting away from the bedside and seeing how each patient directly affects the reimbursement the hospital gets — those kind of things that you don’t necessarily think of when you’re at the bedside, because those things don’t matter. But it’s just interesting to see how that all works in the back-end as well,” says Karla Rausch, manager of patient care for medical ICU at St. Vincent.
What happens during clinical rotations?
Beginning your first semester in our 16-month ABSN program, you’ll gain real-world experience in diverse practice settings, from rehabilitation centers to hospitals to mental health facilities. But what does that real-world experience involve, exactly? We outline what you can expect to happen during nursing clinicals below.
First semester of clinical rotations
The great thing about the Marian ABSN program — and what sets us apart from traditional BSN programs — is the fact that clinical rotations begin the first semester. While earlier exposure to real-world patient interaction is a boon to your nursing education, it can seem intimidating to someone with limited experience in healthcare settings.
As a Marian ABSN student, it’s important to note that you’ll ease into the roles and responsibilities of what a nurse does in the real world. We won’t throw you into the deep end on your first day; rather, as your comprehension and skill level increase through the program, so will your level of clinical practice. During your first semester of clinical rotations in the Marian ABSN program, for example, you can expect to focus on fundamental nursing tasks, such as dressing wounds and checking vitals.
All that said, it’s OK to be nervous on your first day of clinical rotations — in fact, it’s completely normal! Take Marian ABSN alumna Hannah McNabb’s first semester clinical experience:
“The first clinical was overwhelming and I was not super confident. You’re giving medications you haven’t given before to live patients, so that is mildly stressful,” says Hannah, ABSN Class of 2019. “Now I feel confident walking on to the unit knowing that I know the right questions to ask. I know how to assess a patient and how to chart so I feel prepared upon graduation to walk onto a new unit and say, ‘OK, let’s start this day.’”
What Nursing Students Do in Clinicals: A typical shift
Just like in the real world of nursing, no two clinical rotation shifts will ever be exactly the same — it’s part what makes it such an exciting profession to enter into, after all! In general, though, here’s what you can expect to happen and the types of things you can expect to learn during this valuable component of your nursing education.
Before each clinical shift, you’ll meet with your clinical instructor and a small number of other members of your cohort to set goals for the day.
Depending on what you’re learning in the theory portion of your coursework and how far along you are in the program, this goal could be “watch someone put in an IV” or “successfully insert a patient’s catheter with help from a staff nurse.”
Throughout your shift, your clinical instructor will expect you to take vitals, explain and understand how the medicine is affecting the patient, and rationalize how you handled each patient care situation during your end-of-shift debriefing session with your clinical instructor. It may all seem overwhelming at first, but with repetition, guidance and practice you’ll learn how to come into your own.
Outside of that, it’s safe to say that you should be prepared to expect the unexpected and treat every opportunity as a learning opportunity. Since you’re completing clinical rotations in a real-world healthcare environment, you’ll experience all kinds of patient situations, medical procedures, and general nursing responsibilities.
How do clinicals prepare you for your nursing career?
In addition to applying nursing knowledge and skills to real-world patient care scenarios, the clinical rotations you’ll experience as a Marian ABSN student prepare you for your future nursing career in several other ways, including:
- Networking and job opportunities
- Exposure to nursing leadership roles beyond the bedside
- Real-world patient care experiences
- Development of time management skills
Networking and job opportunities
Because clinical rotations begin Week 1 in the Marian ABSN program, you can expect to spend almost 16 months with professional caregivers and other healthcare providers who have solid reputations and expert medical knowledge in an array of patient care specialties.
If your end goal after graduating from our program is to become a nurse, it’s important to take advantage of that face time. In fact, it’s for that reason many Marian ABSN alumni recommend thinking of your clinical shift rotations as part of a 16-month job interview.
“You have to make good relationships with the nurses and with the administrative personnel and managers. Managers see the nursing students working on the floors and ask the nurses, ‘I have these people who have applied. I know some of them working on the floor. Who do you want standing next to you on the floor as a nurse when they get hired?’” says Lindsay Degnan, ABSN Class of 2015, who now works as an emergency room nurse at Saint Thomas Health.
Exposure to nursing leadership roles beyond the bedside
One of the huge professional development advantages our program offers ABSN students, including Felicia Silver, ABSN Class of 2016, is the leadership clinical that pairs ABSN students with nurse managers within the St. Vincent or Saint Thomas Health hospital networks.
Not only does it give you direct access to those in charge of hiring decisions within those hospitals, it also allows you a unique perspective on what it would be like to work as a nurse manager.
I had the opportunity to follow a manager in the cardiac ICU unit for 72 hours during my fourth semester. That has shifted my perspective of being a nurse leader and allowed me to become a better nurse for St. Vincent. I understand their values even better from a leadership perspective and how I can grow better within their system. This is unique because you get to learn so much more than you would just at the bedside.
Real-world patient care experiences
Getting the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned from other portions of your ABSN education is a definite confidence builder. Not only do you get to collaborate with others as part of an interdisciplinary patient care team, you begin to understand WHY things are done a certain way in the real world.
“We get to be on the pediatrics unit, on the cancer unit, on the OB unit and all these other different areas, including surgery,” Hannah says. “You get to see all aspects of the hospital and how the leadership teams work together.”
Development of time management skills
Because it compresses 36 months of material into 16 months, the Marian ABSN program involves a lot of motivation and drive to succeed — even without keeping up with multiple full-day clinical shifts each week. The simple fact that you’re choosing to dedicate yourself to nursing while enrolled in our program shows every other member of the healthcare teams you work with during that time that you are not only capable of meeting the demands of the profession, but exceeding them.
“Marian ABSN students have to have been dedicated to their program. With it being an advanced, fast-track program, they have to have dedication,” Rausch says. “That translates to me that they want to be successful in finding a career by coming to work on time, showing up for the days that they’re scheduled, and really working hard.”
What is the best way for nursing students to make the most of clinical rotations?
Don’t panic if you don’t know everything
“It is OK to not know everything. You’re going to come out of nursing school, and yes, you’ve passed your NCLEX, but you have so much more to learn. Don’t feel frustrated. Don’t lose your confidence when you step onto the unit after a couple days. That’s why we continue to have orientation on the unit. We still have more things to teach you, to expand upon what you’ve already learned in school. It will come.”
“Take the opportunity to see more than just the patients you’re assigned to with your preceptor. Take some interest and want to see the unit, want to get a tour, want to hear about other patients on the unit.
“Treat every shadow opportunity, every clinical opportunity like it’s your first, even if you’ve turned a patient 10 times. Be equally as excited to turn that patient because to nurses at the bedside, having a second set of hands is a glorious day by having some help.”
“I tried to really get to know the nurse I’m paired with for each clinical rotation and thanking them for letting me there. I’ve met tons of nurses who’ve given me advice, NCLEX study tools, advice, just what to expect in nursing.”
–Shelbi Auman, 2017 Graduate
“This is a program where for 16 months hospital staff are getting to know you and you’re getting to know them. At the end of the day, we’re doing this for a job. If that means that we get a job there or at least we get to learn about what that really means at St. Vincent, we’re building contacts to get us a job.”
Clinicals play a huge role in your nursing future!
As you can see, clinical rotations expose you to myriad patient populations and healthcare settings, giving you a clearer picture of what it’s like to work as a nurse once you graduate. While our ABSN program sets you up for success for your future career, you can take steps to make the most of your clinical experiences as well. But rest assured, you won’t be navigating them alone — every step of the way, clinical instructors, nurse managers, and fellow cohort members will be there to help you succeed.
To learn more about what to expect during nursing clinicals in the Marian ABSN program, reach out to our admissions team today!