5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Clinical Rotations

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At-home nurse with patient

Clinical rotations are an essential part of gaining experience for aspiring nurse practitioners to learn advanced techniques and pursue specialties. Nurse practitioner students must take a minimum of 500 hours in direct patient care experience, not counting simulation or lab experiences; this number might be higher for those aspiring to care for multiple ages or populations, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.  Nurses with pre-licensure and active license alike can use clinical experiences to expand their skills and knowledge to provide safe patient care.

Here are five ways to get the most out of your clinical rotations.

1. Be Prepared

When coming into a new rotation, it will be essential to know what kind of unit you will be working in and the common conditions that patients may present upon admission. A maternity ward will be far different from a cardiology unit, for example. Email your preceptor two weeks before your clinical rotation begins to confirm logistics such as location, hours and attire. Understanding your objectives and suggested readings will help you get off on the right foot when starting a new clinical rotation.

Clinical participants should study and review the theoretical and clinical knowledge needed before entering the rotation. It will also be important to complete any tasks an instructor might hand you. You may be tasked with reviewing a patient’s medical history and related care in order to provide in-person treatment and look up related evidence-based practices. Monitoring patient charts and using reference materials to research patient problems will help you prepare for rounds and provide quality care.

Furthermore, you should expect and be prepared for any medical task. For example, this could be a piece of equipment you’re not experienced in or a stressed or combative patient. In order to prepare, it helps to ask more tenured students, attending physicians or faculty members for guidance. Skills needed for clinical rotations are also covered in Duquesne’s Master of Science in Nursing program, and the faculty can provide insight into this part of a medical career.

2. Stay Engaged

Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can from your instructor and fully embrace treating patients in that setting. Participate in workshops and take advantage of in-person opportunities to master the technical skills needed for your future career plans.

You should also use your clinical experiences to interact with peers and experts in your specialty subject. Your peers can also help keep you informed about new technologies, skills and procedures you should practice. Similarly, speaking to an advanced practice nurse within your chosen specialty will provide insight on everyday expectations and the culture of that site.

You must give yourself time during training to network with experts in your specialty. Veterans in the specialty can also help you keep up with recent trends and teach you essential techniques. It’s important to keep an open mind during your clinical to make for the best experience possible and develop mentorships. With this type of attitude, you can connect with peers in your specialty and develop relationships that will support you into your career.

A few possible resources include:

  • American Nurses Association: The ANA Center for Continuing Education and Professional Development is accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation and offers regular workshops for nurses.
  • National Nurses in Business Association: Organizations like the NNBA host annual conferences that provide great networking and educational opportunities for nurses.
  • Duquesne’s Post-Master’s Certificates: Specializations are ideal for nurses with clear career goals, and Duquesne offers three online certificates in Family Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Education and Faculty Role, and Forensic Nursing.

3. Maintain Professionalism

Health care institutions expect individuals that exhibit a great work ethic and professionalism throughout their job. Learning the names of your peers, dressing appropriately and showing respect for everyone will go a long way.

Clinical participants will be asked to be focused on their tasks while on the job. This means working alongside fellow staff, performing procedures with supervision to bolster skills and interacting in with patients in meaningful ways.

It’s important to remember that health care institutions have strict rules on conveying patient data. Some individuals have been dismissed for sharing confidential patient information in online social media posts. You should avoid social media, phone calls or personal texting while on rotation, unless it’s an emergency. Taking this step will show your dedication to learning and help streamline rotation concerns, allowing you to concentrate on improving yourself and providing the best patient care possible without any distractions.

4. Take Notes

Above all, clinical rotations are meant to provide students with the skills to improve patient care and advance treatment capabilities. By understanding different health situations that you can expect to see in the unit, you’ll be better prepared to handle patient concerns. You should take one thing away from every patient encounter. Keep a journal of your experiences to catalog your medical firsts and remember each situation. Students should also communicate regularly with their preceptor to discuss progress and take advantage of upcoming opportunities.

Clinical rotations are a learning opportunity. Students should be encouraged to ask for help and learn from their mistakes. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help you set goals for improvement. This will show instructors and preceptors that you’re eager to learn and can improve your patient care capabilities. Never do something if you are uncertain of your skills or uncomfortable and be sure to review steps for procedures prior to performing them and ask questions when you need assistance. Reference centers and clinical instructors will be major resources and are there to guide you.

5. Network and Expand Your Knowledge Base

One key to quality patient outcomes is a team-based approach from health care providers. For nursing students, teamwork during clinical rotations can be improved through intellectual curiosity. You should volunteer your time, when possible, in other areas of expertise. Converse with nurses in other specialties or with students in other programs, like doctors and health administrators. Learn the topics they are covering and their pain points and areas of emphasis, to see how they relate to your profession.

On a more nurse-specific level, you can shadow nurses and doctors overseeing patients outside your assignment. Each patient is a unique opportunity to learn, and you can expand your knowledge by pitching in beyond the scope of your clinical rotation. You never know when a patient could provide a lesson that becomes applicable to your education.

When planning out your clinical experience, go to a variety of rotations to gain essential skills and challenge yourself. You should actively seek out settings that will test you and improve your capabilities, such as shadowing a surgery. Ask critical questions and take time to look up answers. Be humble enough to learn from your mistakes during these opportunities.

About Duquesne’s Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program

The Duquesne University School of Nursing is top-ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs. The MSN program offers three areas of specialization: Forensic Nursing, Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Education and Faculty Role.


AACN Nursing, 2019 CNL Awards
Nurse.com, “10 Tips For Making the Most of Clinical Rotation”
American Medical Association, “7 Clinical Rotation Tips Experience Physicians”
AAFP.org, Tips Rotations.pdf
American Physical Therapy Association, Clinical Experience
AARC.org, “Putting Your Best Foot Forward in Clinical Rotations
Osteopathic.org, “9 ways to succeed in your clinical rotations”
National Nurses in Business Association
Nursing World.org, Continuing Education