The Importance of Clinical Experience

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For nearly all professionals outside of healthcare, internships are a rite of passage along the way toward a higher education degree or post-graduation employment. For nurses, however, the traditional “internship” has a different spin: clinical experience. For all intents and purposes, clinical experience is to nurses what an internship is to business students, and clinical experiences for nurses provide important insight and practice that may improve patient care in the future.

Patient at hospital counter with nurse

Clinical Experience is a Requirement for Higher Education

While an internship for a non-healthcare position is highly recommended, clinical experience for nurses is compulsory. Accredited nursing programs across the U.S. include clinical experience as a requirement for graduation, both at the bachelor’s and master’s levels.

According to a white paper published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), hands-on job experience prepares nursing students for a diverse patient-care environment in a variety of settings. This is due to the broad field of nursing as a whole – there are many specialties, care settings, positions, and more – and no two days are alike. Clinical experience before entering the professional world in full provides a vast wealth of knowledge to nursing students.

A separate paper from the AACN highlighted a number of the goals of clinical experience for master’s nursing students. At this level, students are expected to:

  • Partake in quality care initiatives
  • Participate in or lead inter-professional care teams
  • Collaborate in care services across multiple healthcare departments
  • Implement learned knowledge and behaviors into real-world scenarios

In supervised learning environments, nursing students can practice their skills and hone key traitswith real patients but under the watchful eye of tenured professionals. This safety net helps them develop a mastery of their skills faster than would be possible on their own, without sacrificing quality patient outcomes.

Broad Benefits of Clinical Learning for Nurses and Employers

Furthermore, one study, published in BioMed Central Nursing that surveyed more than 450 nursing students found that there was significant support offered for clinical learning in an education environment.

The study authors report that the surveyed nursing students were “highly satisfied” with the clinical learning environment. The factors that impacted satisfaction were the types of management and leadership and the presence of mentors. The more mentorship that was offered to students, the higher the overall student satisfaction of the clinical learning experience was.

A related benefit of clinical experience for nurses is a professional network. Hands-on learning will introduce students to supervisors, professors, and coworkers who may provide assistance during the job search. For example, students may work directly with an experienced nurse leader during their clinical experience, and that leader could become a mentor and provide a written recommendation or introduce the student to a job opening.

For nursing students, this effort is even more crucial as health organizations search for candidates to deliver quality patient care. Employers want to ensure that new hires can operate without the need for constant supervision, and clinical experience is a great way to learn how to be more independent on the job, while still having supervision from a preceptor to ensure that all the proper steps are taken for quality patient care.

Students with ‘Internships’ Have Higher Satisfaction in their Positions

Clinical experience can facilitate the transition between student and professional, working nurse. Students will get to experience what it’s actually like on the job and see if it aligns with their interests before committing to a specific nursing focus or clinical setting.

A number of health care institutions are offering programs to make up for regional and national nurse shortages while enabling a smooth transition into the clinical practice. Seton Healthcare Family in Texas, for example, established a residency program in 2007 to help recruit nurse practitioners and retain them more effectively.

The residency program included:

  • An 18-week program
  • Supervised clinical experience
  • A mentorship program
  • Student evaluation and assessment

This effort reduced the turnover rate of new hires in the facility and helped students adapt to the environment. Experience such as this may help nurses better understand what is expected of them in their jobs and attain higher satisfaction in their career outcomes.

Nursing Students Will Learn How to Work Effectively

When entering a new job, there’s a sense of excitement and surprise at every turn. Challenges will emerge unexpectedly, and it’s up to professionals to overcome them and use what they learned to shape themselves as nurses. Clinical experience help nursing students become accustomed to high-stress moments. This experience will enable them to hone their preparation skills and reflexes to ensure that they’re ready for anything.

Although no day as a nurse is the same, nurses often develop a routine. Responsibilities might revolve around repeat actions, such as making rounds to visit patients and administering necessary care. Clinical learning is important to train nurses how to handle both the routine and high-stress elements of the job without negatively impacting patient outcomes.

Bedside Manner can Significantly Improve

A big part of a nurse’s role is to talk with and care for patients. As an “intern” in a clinical learning setting, students should try to know the patient as best they can, Medical School HQ suggested. This will help them give relevant information during daily and weekly conferences and consult on the plans for care.

A study conducted by Vanguard Communications found that most patients had no problems with the level of health care received. Instead, common complaints centered on communication, wait time, and bedside manner. Of the study group of patients most satisfied with their medical experience, 40 percent listed bedside manner as their biggest complaint, ahead of all other options.

Nurses are essential for understanding the patient’s condition, planned procedures and why these strategies are being pursued. Without this information, medical errors can occur. The patient should always come first, and interactions as part of clinical experience will serve as important learning 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 Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Education and Faculty Role.

Sources, “How to apply for nursing internships and why it’s so important”
Medical School Headquarters, “Ten Tips for Successfully Starting your Intern Year”
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Resources”
BioMedical, “Nursing students’ satisfaction of the clinical learning environment: a research study”
Advisory Board, “Patients’ top complaint? It isn’t doctors or nurses, study finds”