Why varied clinical placements matter for student nurses

When you’re working towards earning a nursing degree, you might feel that the important learning is all done in the classroom and that the clinical hours required of you are a bit of a chore, or a means of finding out if you have the staying power to deal with the practical side of the work. In fact, clinical placements provide a valuable learning opportunity in themselves. The more you can vary your clinical placements, spending time in different institutions, the more you will get out of them. This article looks at some of the reasons why.

The importance of clinical experience

If everything you learned about nursing came from classes, you would quickly be overwhelmed when you hit the wards. Clinical experience translates theory into practice. It’s a chance to learn skills which just can’t be taught any other way, and a chance to develop good habits which your body will remember even when your brain is tired.

Clinical placements also ensure that you can find your way around a ward, know what equipment is needed for different tasks and work out how to find it. It forces you to confront things which you may be uncertain or nervous about and builds your confidence as you discover that you can cope with more than you might have imagined. It also helps you to understand the physical challenges of the job and build up the stamina needed to overcome them. In short, it’s indispensable.

Gain a deeper understanding of the profession

The time you spend in real life clinical environments will enable you to understand the ethos of nursing on a much deeper level, moving away from theory and seeing how it fits into the world in practice. You’ll see the way that it transforms lives, and you’ll discover the reasons why other people have committed their lives to it.

The more you move around, the bigger the picture you’ll be able to develop of the field. Each setting where nursing is practiced has a slightly different working culture and way of thinking. The more you experience when you’re training, the more easily you’ll be able to slot into whatever environment you need to once you begin work as a professional. You’ll also have a stronger sense of why it matters, which will help to power you through when you’re studying for tests.

Get comfortable with change

Nursing is a profession in which you will constantly be moving around between roles, taking on new learning challenges and adapting to different situations. You will have to be able to deal with change and hit the ground running each time. Arranging your placements in different institutions will help you to build up confidence in your ability to handle this. It’s not just that your comfort zone will expand, but that you’ll become less nervous about stepping outside it. You’ll know from experience that you’re able to adapt, you’ll know how long that’s likely to take, you’ll be better prepared to handle the difficult stage when you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing and you’ll know who and how to ask for help. You’ll develop a range of important learning skills.

Experience different managerial styles

Nursing is a strictly hierarchical profession, which is vital to ensuring that everything runs smoothly, but every manager and team leader does things a little differently. You will need to be able to adapt to that. Working under different managers will enhance your communication skills and give you the ability to adjust quickly if you find yourself moved around between teams in a future job, which is often the case when wards get busy. It also means that if you will be better able to work with a range of management styles, preparing you to perform your best even in difficult situations. You’ll learn how to do what’s required of you efficiently with or without praise. As a result, the managers you work under in the future will all value you more.

Build up peer-to-peer knowledge

It’s not easy to quantify, but some of the most useful knowledge you will gain in nursing comes from the little tips and tricks that other nurses show you when you’re working alongside them. Every workplace has slightly different ways of doing things, and moving around means that you’ll have the opportunity to pick up a lot more of these valuable secret skills.

Even before you get to the end of your course, you may be in a position to start sharing them with other people, increasing the value which you bring as a new addition to a team. You’ll also benefit from learning other nurses’ philosophies about the job, along with the techniques which they use to cope when times are tough. This will improve your resilience and help you to develop a healthy emotional relationship with your work.

Improve your ability to build relationships

As a working nurse, you will constantly be building new relationships with people: as both you and other healthcare professionals move around, and as you come into contact with new patients. Learning to form relationships quickly and finding ways of connecting with very different personality types is essential.

Completing a variety of different placements gives you a good grounding simply by increasing the number of people you will deal with. In most clinical placements, you won’t get much one-to-one patient time until fairly late in the learning process, but you will spend time with colleagues in situations where you need to be able to trust and rely on one another, and you’ll get to observe the methods other nurses use to win patients’ trust.

Engage with different types of patient

Every medical institution has its own specialties and reputational strengths and weaknesses, even in terms of the local population it treats. Some health conditions will be a lot more common than others. This means that if you want to see a diversity of different patient types, you really need to move around.

By working in a variety of placements, you’ll gain insight into pediatrics and geriatrics, learning some of the special skills required to connect with people at each end of the life course. You will also encounter a wide range of ailments and see how nurses manage them in practice. No matter where you end up working, you’re likely to encounter people whose treatment for other health problems is complicated by mental illness or a history of cancer, so this breadth of experience is extremely valuable.

Observe different medical procedures

Part of the point of clinical experience is to give you the chance to see many different types of medical procedures being carried out. This will help to make you more confident about what you can handle when you’re called to assist, and it will help to expand your comfort zone, reducing the risk of anything shocking or unsettling you once you’re working as a fully-fledged professional. You’ll observe procedures which, now or later, you’ll be carrying out yourself. You’ll also have the opportunity to watch others with a view to gaining a better understanding of what different patients experience and how to help them. This also helps to demystify what goes on in hospitals and clinics of different kinds. Eventually you will need to be able to explain these procedures to patients in simple, non-intimidating terms.

Enhance your cultural competence

In addition to meeting different types of patients as you move around, you’ll meet patients from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and the cultural make-up of the teams of which you are a part will vary too. This is really important because gaining familiarity with different cultures not only helps with relationship building, but it also reduces the risk of things going wrong.

Inadequate cultural competence can cause all kinds of problems, from the misidentification of serious symptoms to misunderstandings about consent and care provision, and a generally isolating experience for patients at a time when they already feel vulnerable. The good news is that if every nurse makes an effort to learn about at least two additional cultures, there should be enough experience within most workplaces to give 99% of patients the support they need.

Deal with pressure

Every healthcare institution faces different pressures, whether it’s a staffing shortfall or a shortage of specific pieces of equipment, a particularly demanding clientele or a patient population with chronic health complications. The more such stressors you encounter as a student, the better you’ll be able to cope as a professional.

Dealing with challenges like these also gets you used to innovating and helps you learn how to prioritize. It teaches you where the stress points are in the system and lets you see how seasoned nurses manage morale, so you learn to be a good team player. Some students find that they thrive in these challenging situations, and go on to work in environments such as the ER, where you never know what the next day will bring.

Expand your networks

Every opportunity to work in a different place presents an opportunity to expand your network, which is a resource you’ll be able to draw on throughout your career. The more people you can impress or befriend, the easier you’ll find it to land a job and advance in the areas which interest you most. You’ll meet people whose expertise you can draw on in tricky situations, while you help others by sharing your own. You’ll have people who understand what you’re going through when things are difficult and can help you to destress. You’ll also have lots of social opportunities, which many nurses consider to be the best thing about the job, and which makes more relaxed days at work almost as much fun as a night out.

Find out where you fit best

Most people begin their nursing studies with only a vague idea about the different working options available to graduates. Although you won’t be able to try out all of these through placements, simply because some involve working independently or require additional prior training, moving between several different healthcare institutions will help you to get more of a feel for what suits you.

You might find that you enjoy the busy, energetic environment of a large hospital where there are always new things happening and new challenges emerging. Alternatively, you might find yourself drawn to smaller, community-focused clinics where you see the same patients regularly and have time to get to know them.

Get to know different potential workplaces

If you like the idea of remaining in the same area after you graduate, it’s a great idea to try to arrange placements in several different local healthcare institutions, allowing you to check out a variety of places where you could end up working.

If you earn the education needed for registered nurse qualifications online through a reputable institution such as the University of Indianapolis, you’ll be supported in finding placements close to where you live, which is ideal if you don’t want to have to move away from family and friends. This gives you the opportunity to determine which settings you’re happiest in, and to try to make a good impression on senior staff there, as well as finding out as much as you can about their recruitment processes. You will then be ideally placed to make applications once you’ve passed the NCLEX exam and obtained your license.

The University of Indianapolis offers a wide range of online nursing programs, including an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). Candidates who have earned a bachelor of science in another field can transition into a career in nursing in as little as 15 months through this program.


Nursing is a profession in which experience counts for great deal. Completing your clinical hours through several different healthcare institutions will give you a significant advantage where that’s concerned, as you will gain a rich and more rounded understanding of the field. This will also help you to understand more clearly what working as a nurse is all about, reaffirming your commitment and helping you to clarify just what you want to get out of it. It could be the first step in a deeply rewarding career.