FAQs About Nursing Clinicals: What to Expect

A nursing preceptor mentors an ABSN student in between rounds
A nursing preceptor mentors an ABSN student in between rounds

Nurses help patients through the most difficult challenges in their lives. This work requires strong foundational knowledge as well as exceptional interpersonal skills. Applying theory into practice is why students seeking their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) complete nursing clinicals.

BSN students complete clinical rotations under the supervision of experienced nurses throughout their enrollment. Clinicals provide hands-on experiences with patient care in clinical settings. Aspiring nurses should know what to expect from nursing clinicals and why they are essential to their education.


What are Clinicals in Nursing School?

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) summarizes clinical experiences as “planned learning activities in nursing practice that allow students to understand, perform, and refine professional competencies.” Nursing clinicals involve nursing students working with preceptors - on direct patient care. CCNE requires all accredited nursing programs to incorporate clinicals into their curriculum.

Nursing clinicals teach students how to treat patients as part of teams with nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, speech-language pathologists, social workers, pharmacists, and physician assistants. They learn how to communicate with diverse patient populations about medical issues. Students also gain experience with essential nursing skills, including:

  • Administering medications
  • Documenting patient medical histories during exams
  • Helping patients bath, dress, and ambulate
  • Complete patient assessments and monitoring vital signs


Who are Nurse Preceptors?

Preceptors are registered nurses who provide mentorship and supervision to nursing students. Nursing schools typically require preceptors to hold BSNs or higher and possess enough experience to guide aspiring nurses. The preceptor-student relationship supports high-quality patient care and fosters future leaders in the field.

Nurse preceptors work with university programs on the appropriate mix of tasks to meet learning goals. Supervised interactions with patients ensure nursing students follow best practices and hospital policies. The most effective preceptors model leadership and communication skills necessary for success in clinical settings.


What are Typical Clinical Settings for Rotations?

Students don’t spend all of their nursing clinical hours in one setting. Nursing schools work with future nurses to find clinical settings as diverse as the environments served by registered nurses. We can use the following breakdown from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for a general sense of nursing employers:

  • State, local, and private hospitals (59%)
  • Outpatient healthcare providers (18%)
  • Residential care facilities (6%)
  • Government agencies and facilities (5%)
  • State, local, and private educational settings (3%)

Nursing clinicals reveal specializations and specialized care needs within these broader categories. Students may work with patients across the lifespan in maternity wards, pediatric care areas, university health centers, and geriatrics in dementia care facilities. They also learn how to care for patients in clinical settings as varied as public health departments, drug rehabilitation centers, and home health providers.


How Do Students Prepare for Nursing Clinicals?

Universities integrate nursing clinicals and classroom learning in their BSN programs. Traditional four-year programs begin clinical rotations in a student’s third year after completing general education requirements. Accelerated nursing programs - many of which are offered online or in hybrid form - get future nurses started on their clinical rotations earlier in their enrollment.

Foundational courses in anatomy, biology, and other scientific disciplines are completed before rotations. Nursing programs also require students to complete courses on transitioning into nursing roles at the outset of clinical experiences. BSN students complete relevant coursework alongside their rotations, thus putting theory into practice.


Why are Nursing Clinicals Important?

Nursing education shifted from hospital-based training to universities in the 1970s. This long-term shift has placed greater importance on rotations because future nurses' entire education is not based in clinical settings. Preceptors and placement teams prepare the next generation of nurses through meaningful learning experiences.

Graduates of BSN programs must pass the computerized NCLEX-RN exam to achieve licensure in their practice locations. Nursing clinicals offer practical experiences with areas covered by the NCLEX-RN, thus supporting exam preparation. Hands-on learning about nursing practices and policies aligns with eight exam areas:

  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Management of Care
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  • Physiological Adaptation
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Safety and Infection Control

Nursing clinicals also prepare students for the fast-moving nature of healthcare settings. Students complete nursing care plans, communicate with team members, and learn to prioritize in real-world settings. Future nurses can make the most of their classroom and clinical experiences at Holy Family University.


Learn Evidence-Based Nursing Practice at Holy Family University

Holy Family University’s Second Degree Distance Hybrid BSN (ABSN) provides an accelerated path for career-changing professionals. ABSN applicants with bachelor’s degrees in any discipline and cumulative GPAs of at least 3.0 meet the program’s requirements. This CCNE-accredited program differs from other ABSN programs by only requiring five prerequisite courses:

  • Anatomy & Physiology I with lab
  • Anatomy & Physiology II with lab
  • Elementary Statistics
  • Microbiology with lab
  • Nutrition

Students build foundational knowledge and gain clinical experiences over 14 months. Online courses cover topics from Medical-Surgical Nursing to Nursing Care of Children. Holy Family University requires all students to complete a one-week, on-campus residency.

The ABSN program provides free placement services so students can complete their nursing clinicals. Holy Family University’s Placement Team identifies clinical opportunities and qualified preceptors in students’ communities. ABSN candidates complete 504 clinical hours over seven rotations in practice areas like:

  • Aggregate-based Nursing Care
  • Nursing Care of the Childbearing Family
  • Nursing Leadership

A Holy Family University education provides a great return on investment thanks to a strong regional reputation. U.S. News & World Report placed the University in its 2023 Regional Universities North and Nursing program rankings. Accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education demonstrates Holy Family’s commitment to academic excellence.

Find out how Holy Family University’s ABSN offers an affordable and convenient path to nursing careers.