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Surviving Your First Year of Clinicals

So it’s your third year into nursing school (objectively the most stressful) and you’re hit with just about the last thing you could possibly imagine: a global pandemic. Not only do you have to deal with the pre-NCLEX testing that comes along with your first year of clinical rotations, but now you’re dealing with sicker patients, higher anxiety situations, and the threat of quarantine looming over your head. You see, for upperclassmen nursing students, having to quarantine means missing your clinical rotations for at least two weeks and then having to make them up by sitting on Zoom for 8 hours. Not ideal to say the least, and I don’t mean to complain (although, we do LOVE to complain). 

What I’m really trying to get at is that clinicals pre-COVID are difficult enough, but suiting up and running around in head-to-toe protective garb doesn’t necessarily make anything easier. Plus, now you’re learning the most important content in your education through a tiny window on your 2018 Macbook Air while you’re sitting in your bed (under the covers, no doubt). 

Regardless, your first clinical rotation probably has you pretty nervous, so I’m here to tell you how it goes by using some FAQs I’ve gotten from those wondering.


What does a regular week in the life of a junior nursing student look like? 

You’ll have nine-hour clinical rotations twice a week, usually 7am-4pm or 2pm-11pm. 

Lectures are twice a week on opposite days, so your schedule would be two days of lecture and two days of clinical. You’ll have one day free to either fill up with electives OR (even better) to use as a full-day study break. 

Image by Stocksnap from Pixabay

What are clinicals really like?

Clinicals are usually nine hours of running around doing whatever the nurses tell you to do. You’ll be with your instructor who will tote your group around and assign you each a patient. Odds are, you’ll be in charge of their daily assessments, comfort measures, and just about everything the nursing aides would usually do (yes, that does mean wiping an occasional butt… it’s all part of the experience, babe). Additionally, once you pass your medication test, you’ll be allowed to pass meds to your patients with the observation of your instructor. 

Not only do you learn a TON in clinicals, but you’ll get really comfortable with your group and you’ll get each other through it. It’s normal to be nervous the first day, but you’ll get used to it and eventually be a pro. 


How are clinicals graded?

You’ll probably have a varying number of nursing care plans due on your assigned patients. My group was assigned two big ones during my first rotation and other groups did weekly smaller ones, so it all depends on your instructor. They’re going to take some time and effort either way, so just be sure to write EVERYTHING down and get started on them early. You’ll also have weekly journals to turn in, so writing everything down ahead of time will help you formulate the journals at the end of each week. 

You’ll also have a presentation to do towards the end of the semester. It usually pertains to the specific patient population you are caring for in clinical. For example, I was placed in a rehab facility, and the presentations varied from Fall Risk all the way to Diabetes. 

The rest of clinical is graded Pass/Fail, and then it all goes into your lecture grade. Not too bad, right?


Any other tips or tricks?

  • Get yourself a little notepad to put in your scrub pockets. Always bring extra pens… I can assure you that you’ll lose hundreds of them. 

  • Bring a filling lunch/dinner and a lot of water because you’ll get exhausted very fast. I even brought snacks and kept them in my pocket in case I started to feel a little faint. 

  • Seriously, don’t be afraid to ask the nurses, your instructor, and even your colleagues questions. 


It can be overwhelming at first, and every day is different, but it’s all worth it! Good luck :)

mask on a pink letterboard with the words "don't panic" written
Photo by Tonik from Unsplash

Caroline is a junior at the University of Connecticut majoring in nursing. She is passionate about climate activism, loud music, and breakfast food.
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