What is a clinical placement in nursing education?

Clinical placements are an essential part of nurse training programs as they allow students to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills in real-world clinical environments. In these placements, students learn how to interact with patients, use clinical reasoning and cooperate with other healthcare providers, preparing them for a successful nursing career. Understanding what a clinical placement involves can help you prepare and get the most out of the experience. 

In this article, we discuss what a clinical placement is, why they’re important, and what you can expect to learn from one. We also provide some tips on how to prepare.  

What is a clinical placement?

Clinical placements are when nursing students work in real healthcare settings to gain hands-on experience. It’s usually a mandatory part of healthcare courses such as nursing, medicine, pharmacy and physical therapy. Even an MSN for non-nurses, such as the one at Elmhurst University, which is a direct route into nursing for those with degrees in other subjects, typically includes a clinical placement. During this placement at Elmhurst University, students work under licensed healthcare professionals and do things such as caring for patients, recording information and watching clinical procedures. The goal of a clinical placement is to help students develop their skills and understand what it’s like to work in healthcare.

A clinical placement can be a tough but fulfilling experience for students. It lets them use what they learned in class in real situations and learn new skills. They will also meet a variety of patients and healthcare workers, which can improve their communication skills and cultural awareness. By getting to know experienced healthcare professionals, students can build relationships that may help them find jobs in the future. Overall, clinical placement is an important part of healthcare courses, giving students a chance to learn and prepare for their careers.

Why are clinical placements important?

Clinical placements are important for healthcare students because they provide them with practical experience in a real healthcare setting. While classroom learning is essential, it cannot compare to the hands-on experience of working with real patients and healthcare professionals. During a clinical placement, students get to see what it’s like to work in the healthcare industry and get a feel for the day-to-day tasks they will be doing when they start their careers. 

They can also learn about different healthcare settings and specialties, which can help them decide what area of healthcare they want to work in. Also, clinical placements give nurses the chance to apply the knowledge and skills they learned in class to real-life situations, which helps to solidify their understanding and develop their confidence.

Another reason why clinical placements are important is that they help students develop essential skills, such as communication and teamwork. Healthcare is a team-based profession, and being able to work well with others is essential for providing quality patient care. During a clinical placement, students get to work with a variety of healthcare professionals, such as nurses, doctors, and pharmacists, and learn how to communicate effectively and collaborate with others. They also get to practice patient-centered care, which emphasizes the importance of building relationships with patients and addressing their unique needs. 

What to expect during clinical placements

Clinical placements give aspiring nurses a chance to apply their skills in real-life clinical settings under doctors, registered nurses, and other high-level healthcare figures. Over the course of your placement, you’ll learn how to do the following.

Assess and evaluate patients

Effective assessment and evaluation is a crucial component of nursing, which involves systematically gathering and analyzing data to understand a patient’s health status, needs and responses to treatment. As a nurse, conducting a thorough patient assessment and evaluation requires the use of critical thinking skills, clinical judgment, and effective communication with patients and healthcare professionals. The process involves physical examination, observation, review of medical history, and monitoring of vital signs, as well as identification of patient concerns, risks, and potential complications. By assessing and evaluating patients, nurses can develop individualized care plans, implement appropriate interventions, and monitor patient outcomes to promote optimal health and wellbeing.

Administer medications

This involves the safe and accurate delivery of prescribed medications to patients in accordance with established protocols and guidelines. As a nurse, administering medications requires a thorough understanding of the medication’s indications, dosage, route of administration and potential side effects, as well as the patient’s medical history and current condition. This involves careful preparation and calculation of the medication dose, accurate documentation, and monitoring of the patient’s response to the medication. Nurses must also be knowledgeable about medication interactions, contraindications and potential adverse reactions, and take appropriate measures to prevent medication errors and ensure patient safety.

Monitor vital signs

This involves the ongoing assessment and measurement of a patient’s key physiological parameters, including blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature and oxygen saturation. Vital signs provide important information about a patient’s overall health status, and can indicate changes in condition, response to treatment or the presence of potential complications. As a nurse, monitoring vital signs requires knowledge of normal ranges, appropriate equipment and techniques, and effective communication with patients and healthcare professionals. Nurses must also be able to recognize and respond to abnormal vital signs and take appropriate measures to ensure patient safety and promote optimal health outcomes.

Communicate with key figures

Nurses learn how to communicate with patients, families and other healthcare professionals during clinical placements, as they provide opportunities to observe and practice effective communication skills. During placements, nursing students work under experienced nurses who can provide feedback and guidance on effective communication techniques. Nurses also learn how to adapt their communication style to meet the individual needs of different patients and healthcare professionals, including those from diverse cultural backgrounds or with special communication needs. Through clinical placements, nurses develop the confidence and skills needed to communicate effectively with all key figures in healthcare, building strong professional relationships and promoting optimal patient outcomes.

Provide education and counseling 

Nurses play a critical role in educating and counseling patients to promote their health and prevent illness. They provide patients with information about their condition, treatment options and self-care techniques, empowering them to manage their health effectively. Moreover, nurses offer counseling to patients and their families, helping them to cope with emotional distress and lifestyle changes. Aspiring nurses gain practical experience in providing patient education and counseling through clinical placements. These placements provide opportunities for students to work alongside experienced nurses and observe how they communicate with patients, identify their needs and develop individualized care plans. By participating in clinical placements, aspiring nurses can acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to deliver effective education and counseling to patients.

Give emotional support

Nurses provide emotional support to patients and their families by creating a supportive and empathetic environment that addresses their emotional needs. They offer a listening ear and encourage open communication. They provide a safe space for patients and families to express their concerns, fears and emotions. Nurses also educate families on coping mechanisms and self-care strategies, facilitating their ability to provide emotional support to their loved ones. Through their compassionate care and active listening, nurses can help alleviate emotional distress and promote emotional wellbeing for patients and their families during challenging times.

Apply infection control measures

The application of infection control measures is crucial in preventing the spread of infections in healthcare settings, and nurses are essential in this effort. They receive training on adhering to strict protocols, which include hand hygiene, proper use of personal protective equipment, and maintaining a clean and sterile environment. Aspiring nurses gain practical experience through clinical placements, where they observe and participate in procedures such as dressing changes, sterile technique and isolation precautions. This hands-on experience enables them to identify potential sources of infection, manage and contain outbreaks, and educate patients and their families on infection prevention strategies. As a result, aspiring nurses are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to safeguard patients and healthcare workers from the spread of infection.

Tips on preparing for a clinical placement

Preparing for your clinical placement can help you extract the most value from the experience. Here are some tips on how to do so.

Research the facility 

Researching where you’ll be completing your clinical placement is a good way to prepare. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the facility’s policies, procedures and protocols can help you become better equipped for the challenges you may face during your placement. This research can also give you a better understanding of the types of patients you may encounter and the treatments and procedures that are commonly performed in the facility. Also, being familiar with the facility’s expectations and guidelines can help you feel more confident and comfortable as you navigate your placement. 

Revise course materials

To make the most out of your nursing clinical placement, it’s crucial to review your course materials, including lectures, textbooks and other resources. This will help refresh your memory on relevant concepts and theories, giving you a deeper understanding of the practical applications you will encounter during your placement. By reviewing your course materials, you can also identify areas where you need more support or practice, allowing you to get the most out of your clinical experience. In short, taking the time to review your course materials before starting your clinical placement can significantly enhance your learning and preparation.

Practice good hygiene

Maintaining good hygiene practices is crucial in a nursing clinical placement to prevent the spread of infections. It’s imperative to frequently wash your hands using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer to eliminate germs and bacteria. In addition, avoiding unnecessary contact with surfaces, your face or hair can minimize the transmission of germs. Wearing personal protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns and masks, may also be required for certain procedures, and it’s essential to follow the appropriate protocol for their use. Good hygiene practices not only protect you but also safeguard patients and healthcare professionals from the spread of infections. As such, it’s essential to prioritize good hygiene practices during your nursing clinical placement.

Bring equipment and resources

Bringing necessary equipment to your nursing clinical placement can help ensure that you are well-prepared for your tasks and responsibilities. It’s essential to bring equipment such as a stethoscope, penlight and watch with a second hand to enable you to measure vital signs, perform physical assessments and record patients’ health status accurately. It’s equally important to ensure that the equipment is clean, functional and in good working order before using it. Additionally, you should consider bringing a notebook or recording device to help you document important information and take notes during your placement. Bringing the necessary equipment will allow you to perform your duties effectively and efficiently, contributing to a successful nursing clinical placement.


If you have a degree and are thinking about training to become a nurse, why not consider enrolling on a course such as an MSN for non-nurses? This will usually include a clinical placement, where you can learn how to apply your skills in a real-world environment.