For all nursing and healthcare staff, getting physical and practical experience alongside theoretical study is incredibly important. While nurse practitioners, or NPs, will learn a variety of skills and dive deep into specialties on their degrees and other courses, there’s only so much they will learn from a written or visual perspective.
The next phase in training to be a nurse involves clinical placement in a real healthcare setting. Clinical placements for NPs allow students to flex their medical muscles and apply much of what they’ve already learned in real life. However, they will still be learning on the job, meaning there will always be support and guidance close by.
Clinical placements are some of the most exciting opportunities students will take while studying for BSNs and associated qualifications for nurse practitioners. But beyond the excitement and the change of pace, what are the overall benefits of clinical placements for nurse practitioners, and what might they expect?
What is clinical placement?
A clinical placement is an arrangement through which a studying nurse or NP can head to a hospital or clinic to study and work with a real healthcare service and real patients. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will need to treat patients outright. If anything, placements will allow budding NPs to study and learn from various people and specialists within any given clinic, so they know how to adapt better when first graduating.
Clinical placements take place in more than just hospitals or general admission clinics. Some NPs will head to care and retirement home facilities (for example, if they specialize in gerontology), maternity hospitals, social care centers, and more. Where an NP will head on placement largely depends on the specialty they’re studying and where their university or college deems most appropriate.
For example, Texas Woman’s University offers NP clinical placement assistance across various states. TWU’s approach here is to help save students time and stress finding placements of their own, as well as to help support coursework and study efficiency. The huge benefit of this is that students can gain invaluable hands-on experience which means they graduate into the world of nursing knowing how to navigate medical obstacles and provide the best support to the patients in their recovery journey.
Clinical placements are crucial for all NP study programs as they allow nurses to do more than visualize how their care skills will work in practice. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The benefits of clinical placements for nurse practitioners
Clinical placements are more than just embellishments to theory programs and traditional study. Graduate NPs may lack the skills to help patients within their specific niches without placements.
Given that NP duties revolve around teamwork as much as thinking on one’s own feet, it’s safe to say that placements offer nursing students their first taste of working in fast-paced environments with various team members.
These are just some examples of why placements are vital to NP study regardless of where they occur. Let’s look at broader-ranging reasons why nursing students should consider where and how they’d like to undertake clinical placements with care.
It’s a chance to try new skills in practice
While NPs will learn various skills and absorb decades of knowledge on any degree they take, there’s only so much opportunity to put skills and knowledge into practice.
While most NP programs will encourage nursing roleplays, that added “work experience” is crucial for NPs to learn how their skills will work in the “real world.”
For example, a clinical placement may show NPs that changing demands and cases from day to day may not always mean they can use perfect techniques or follow set plans. There will always be a chance that their timetables will alter at short notice, meaning placements offer great opportunities for NPs to think on their feet.
NP programs and courses will never suggest to students that every day will look the same or that there will always be an opportunity to stick to a specific plan or set of guidelines. That’s why a clinical placement may be a little surprising to students the first time they experience it.
However, this culture shock is wholly necessary for NP career success. In their specialty, no matter what it may be, NPs must change their thinking and activity to fit the immediate needs of patients and clinics. You never truly know when an emergency might take place, and what’s more, NPs will always have to think fast.
Applying new skills and theory in practice will help NPs appreciate the true work of nursing staff. Nursing is more than just knowing when to apply the right treatments or when to refer to the appropriate specialists.
It’s an opportunity to work with a variety of people
NPs work at the heart of many specialist clinics, so they’ll have contact with many different departments and specialists. For example, those heading on clinical placement will get to work with other nurses for the first time beyond roleplaying via their courses.
Working with qualified and experienced NPs allows students to see how they can mold their skills in practice. Everyone has a different approach to this line of work. Ethics and general care practices may remain the same, yet the specific methods and perspectives of each NP will vary based on the specific setting.
Beyond working with other nurses and NPs, graduate NPs will get to work with doctors and consultants. Doctors and nurses often cross paths regardless of the clinic or healthcare setting. While nurses and NPs typically handle treatments and direct contact, doctors have more of a general overview of diagnosis and courses of action to take.
NPs will also get to work with pharmacy specialists within various clinic settings. The relationship between NP and pharmacist or laboratory is crucial–as NPs will frequently need to discuss patient needs to ensure they get appropriate medication.
Depending on the specialty an NP chooses to work in, a clinical placement will also allow them to work with oncologists, hematologists, and radiographers. Healthcare is broad and complex, meaning NPs are likely to work with a widely spread team, frequently discussing cases with many people from one day to the next.
Therefore, an NP clinical placement is likely to be a very exciting opportunity for people who love to socialize and work in teams. It’s also likely to be an NP’s first taste of what working in a clinic or hospital feels like. It’s much more accurate than the mock environments.
It’s a great way to get out and explore
Many NPs and nurses choose to travel as part of their career paths. As travel nurses or NPs, they may be called upon to fill temporary stations or cases at short notice. This could take them across the states or even abroad to different continents.
While not all NPs will want to travel widely and may prefer to reside within one or two permanent locations, clinical placements can help NPs break free from fixed positions to explore different healthcare systems.
For example, how a specific type of clinic works in Texas may differ completely in London, Cape Town, or Mexico City. There won’t always be opportunities to go on a placement abroad, of course, but the same variety might arise when traveling from state to state.
Getting experience from various clinics is a great idea if, as an NP, you’re excited to travel. You’ll typically study in one specific clinic or area at any one time. However, it still may be a break from “normality” depending on the healthcare experience(s) you’re accustomed to.
Ultimately, NPs see clinical placements as fantastic chances to break free from their comfort zones. NP courses provide comfort because students can complete coursework from home, but placements ensure they know what to expect once they graduate.
Breaking free from one’s comfort zone during NP study is vital. The healthcare industry is fast-paced and varied, yet extremely rewarding. The earlier an NP student heads to placement, the better, as they’ll get a clear insight into what awaits them beyond the classroom.
You’ll get plenty of support
It’s a misconception that students are “out on their own” when they head to placement. In fact, a cohort of experts and graduates will welcome them. They’ll also have access to nursing educators they can shadow and learn from as their placements progress.
While those NP students heading to placements will need to have some knowledge of their industry and how to treat patients, they won’t take full responsibility for treatment plans and patient outcomes. They’re still very much at the start of their careers.
Therefore, while responsibilities are likely to evolve and increase over time while on placement, student NPs can rest assured that there’s a team framework to back them up. These opportunities will be available if they have any questions or wish to shadow anyone in particular.
These frameworks will also help student NPs to appreciate how teams work together in clinical practice. As much as the work of an NP revolves around self-management and critical thinking, you will always need to rely on the expertise and support of your fellow staff. This is not a career path for anyone who prefers to “go it alone.”
Therefore, a clinical placement might be a great chance for student NPs to measure whether this career path is appropriate for them.
It’ll help you decide which direction to take
While NPs heading to clinical placement will likely be deep into studies enough to know what they’d like to do during their careers, it’s not unheard of for students to change direction during or after their placements.
Before heading to clinical placement, student NPs will only have second-hand knowledge of how everything transpires. Placements act almost like “wake-up calls” in some cases, showing students that this is how their studies will play out should they wish to proceed.
Placement clinics and specialties will vary. However, some NPs may decide to change their specialty or may even look at different healthcare areas that interest them more. For example, they may decide to niche into pregnancy care, oncology, cardiology, or otherwise.
In many cases, student NPs leave placements excited to get into “real” work. Those who choose to change career paths may find they prefer working with pharmacists and delivering medicine, for example.
Ultimately, many of us don’t know what we really want to do in our careers until we get the chance to explore in practice. That’s a big part of what clinical placements are all about – helping students find the right fit for their personalities.
The value of clinical placements for nurses in training
For all, traditional and theoretical studies are vital for students looking to graduate as NPs in the US, and clinical placements will always be important.
Clinical placements help students to realize how their knowledge and new skills work in practice. They help them to learn more about what to expect from team environments and in increasingly busy scenarios.
Clinical placements for NPs may also help to shape and influence career trajectories, period. In most cases, NPs find placements fascinating and fun. Placements are ideal stepping stones toward well-paying positions in clinical practice.
Student NPs should remember that they’ll never have to simply leave a theory program and dive straight into work. Clinical placements provide superb stepping stones for those students who want a taste of medical practice. It’s also superb for building confidence and camaraderie with others on the job.
If you are interested in exploring the work of an NP and want to try a clinical placement of your own, you may need to approach your college or university. In other cases, you may need to make your own arrangements. However, the best universities will provide you with the support you need to put your skills to use in the field as soon as possible.