Attending school is a prerequisite for those interested in working as a nurse, but you may have some questions about your nursing school clinicals. Clinicals, also known as clinical rotations, refer to the time that you spend working with actual patients. You’ll generally spend a year or longer in the classroom working with professors before entering a clinical program. This gives you some hands on experience and ensures that you can handle working with patients. Before starting your first clinical experience, there are some things you may want to know upfront.

General vs. Specialty Clinicals

One of the first things you need to know is that there is a difference between a general clinical rotation and a specialty rotation. A general rotation gives you experience working with a wide range of patients. You might work in a hospital or doctor’s office and see people coming in for a check up, patients diagnosed with certain diseases and those exhibiting certain symptoms. Once you complete those rotations, you have the chance to take part in a specialty clinical. Some of the more popular options include psychiatric nursing, obstetrics and critical care or emergency nursing.

Ask for Help

Nursing students learn the skills in the classroom that they need to work with patients, but many students make the mistake of assuming they know everything. When working with patients, never be afraid to ask for help when you need it. As much as you might like to do everything yourself, you can’t be a superhero. You might need help with something as simple as filing a patient report or something more difficult like finding a vein in a patient. The more help you get, the more you’ll learn and the more you can help your patients.

Long Working Hours

Many students don’t realize the long hours they’ll spend on their feet when performing nursing school clinicals. It’s not unexpected for students to spend eight to 12 hours working with patients, go home and come back the next day for another long shift. While your school might offer you some advice on how to handle your job duties, you may not get help learning how to stay comfortable during those shifts. Wearing the right shoes, opting for clothing that fits you comfortably and taking breaks when you get a chance can help you stay sane and comfortable during your shifts.


According to Carol Hamill Costabile, nursing students doing their clinicals must follow something called CARE, which stands for consider, assess, reflect and evaluate. Consider refers to everything you should consider when working with a patient, including his or her symptoms, medical history and treatments. You can then assess the situation and decide what to do next before reflecting on what you learned from each patient and situation you faced. At the end of the day, you can evaluate the situation to see what you learned and how well you handled things.

As a nursing student, you have the chance to do multiple clinical rotations before graduating. The more you learn from your rotations, the more you can help your future patients. Though your school and professors will do a lot to prepare you for your nursing school clinicals, you also want to take some time to prepare yourself and find answers to any questions you have.

For more information on nursing school clinicals, please see: How Do I Find Out What Clinical Experiences a Nursing School Offers?