Clinical placement – hands-on learning

All nursing or midwifery students experience clinical placements – intense periods of learning that challenge your knowledge and expose you to new and interesting concepts.

If you feel uncertain about your clinical placement and would like to chat to someone, you can call our national confidential support line 24/7 on 1800 667 877.
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Clinical placements can be daunting, but are often described as the time where theory comes to life and where you actually learn how to be a nurse or midwife (Levett-Jones & Bourgeois, 2014).  

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Preparing for your placement
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  • Do I have the correct paperwork ready for my first day?
  • How will I get to placement?
  • What equipment do I need to take with me? Is my name on it?
  • What do I need to wear?
  • What are my goals for placement?
  • What is my scope of practice for this placement?
  • What are my stress management strategies?
  • Where can I park my car?
  • What time does orientation commence?
  • Where do I need to meet my educator?
  • Have or do I need to utilise the Nurse and Midwife Support’s wellness plan
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Tips for your clinical placement
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Placement has a lot to offer, but your experiences and what you learn can depend on your enthusiasm, positive attitude and desire to learn. While on clinical placement:

  • don’t apologise for being a student, have pride in your learning journey and smile (it’s contagious)
  • ask for help. Your experiences may be triggering and confronting, if you’re not ok talk about it with someone you trust (if you’re struggling to identify someone to talk to call Nurse & Midwife Support)
  • know how to find information if you don’t know the answer. If concepts are difficult to understand ask your buddy nurse and educator
  • ask questions. Be tactful about when and where you ask. Remember, there are no stupid questions
  • look after yourself – burn out and poor coping can start when you’re a student
  • remember you have rights and responsibilities as a student – only take on that with which are you are comfortable, and
  • reflect on what you’re learning and seeing – keep a journal. 
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Conflict during your clinical placement
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How you deal with conflict can turn a negative experience into a more positive one. A conflict has the potential to lead you to useful professional and personal learning opportunities. 

Tips on dealing with conflict:

  • listen actively
  • be respectful
  • ask for advice from a neutral person
  • journal and reflect on the situation to learn what went well and what didn’t
  • practice self-awareness – are you stressed, sleep deprived or hungry?
  • seek support if things seem to be getting out of hand or need to be escalated
  • try to be assertive in your communication
  • accept and respect that others may have a different opinion
  • try to put things into perspective and reach a compromise
  • do not resort to personal criticism, and
  • try not to hold onto conflict – deal with it and move on.

Sometimes on a clinical placement you may encounter behaviours or observe things that you feel are unreasonable. Some students report feeling bullied by their university, an educator, a clinical supervisor or fellow students. This can be challenging and might be your first experience of this type of behaviour. If you are struggling with conflict and need some support you can call our confidential support line 24/7 on 1800 667 877. 

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The financial burden of placement
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Students spend a lot of time on unpaid placements, which can be a financial strain. You may have to take time off work for a week to a month at a time.

To prepare for the financial burden of placement you can: 

  • budget during the year taking into account periods of no or low-income
  • talk to Centrelink and find out about your entitlements
  • save money to support you during clinical placement
  • look out for scholarships (some rural placements offer financial help)
  • save up your annual leave if you have these entitlements
  • tell your employer about placement early, and
  • track your spending with a budget such as Money Smart. An app may help you see where your money is going and save.
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Setting learning goals
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By setting goals for your clinical placement before you start you identify gaps in your knowledge and plan your learning. Discuss your goals with your educator or clinical mentor.

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What to do with feedback
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Feedback during your study enables you to improve your practice and grow professionally and personally (Riley, 2017; Levett-Jones & Bourgeois, 2014). It is important to be able to receive constructive critical feedback. During your clinical placement you are not expected to be an expert, you are there to learn and you can’t learn without feedback.

Tips on how to accept and benefit from feedback

  • have a positive attitude and see this as a learning experience
  • remember that you’re a student and cannot know everything
  • try not to feel targeted – we can all improve
  • listen actively to feedback and be respectful of the person giving it
  • ensure feedback is given in a space where you can ask questions about what is being said
  • embrace feedback and thank the person for taking the time to talk to you about your learning and how you can improve
  • make sure you understand the feedback and the purpose for change (ask questions and don’t leave room for misinterpretation)
  • be open minded and ask for strategies to help you improve
  • be mindful of your body language – maintain eye contact and try not to fold your arms, and
  • reflect on feedback. What will you do next and how will you back up this change? 
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What can I do next?
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Why not read some of our other articles on staying healthy:

Our service provides free and confidential support 24/7, to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you would like to speak to someone call 1800 667 877, or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support. 

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