By Emma Reardon MACN (ENL)
As students, we know that clinical placement is the perfect place to put theory into practice and solidify our clinical knowledge. We arrive on our first day, clinical competency documents in hand, ready to gain real-life clinical experience. However, when focusing on our clinical skills, we can overlook the incredible opportunity that clinical placements provide us to practice workplace interpersonal skills. Developing these skills can help us feel engaged and integrated into the broader health care team during the placement. Although, achieving this goal isn’t easy and it comes with several challenges including:
- Arriving on your first day and are given the nickname “the student”
- Walking into the handover room, searching for reassuring eye contact and acknowledgement, and no one makes eye contact
- Finding yourself frequently looking for your preceptor or trying to catch up to them
- Having reduced time to complete your complex clinical competencies because the staff are glad to have an extra pair of hands and you find yourself absorbed in helping patients with activities of daily living.
Sound familiar? These are all experiences that I and my peers have had while on clinical placement. Luckily, there are strategies which can help you to navigate this new environment, form professional relationships and gain experience in professional workplace interactions. Here is my advice for student nurses to overcome initial apprehensions and become part of the health care team whilst on placement.
- Devote time to building relationships
When you walk into a new clinical environment the staff don’t know who you are, and more significantly, they don’t know what unique qualities you can bring to the team. Their judgement of you may be based on previous experiences with other students.
With a little bit of effort, you have the opportunity to create new perceptions and refreshed judgement. Greet people and introduce yourself by name, whether they’re nurses, health care assistants, supportive services assistants, allied health or doctors. This may seem obvious, but as those of us who have gone through placements will know, it is easier said than done. It requires initiative, confidence and bravery (especially if it’s not met with equal enthusiasm at first, but don’t give up!).
Spend your breaks in the staff tearoom with the other team members! This valuable advice was given to me by a Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) on placement once. It’s easy to slink off to lunch with your fellow students but you could be missing out on some fantastic break room bonding time! The more opportunities you provide to build rapport, the more quickly it will come. That said, it is still important to take total mental breaks which may mean needing to grab a coffee with a peer to debrief. Try to commit at least a few break times to staff bonding and informal relationship building.
- Be enthusiastic
People love when other people are interested in what they do – it’s a simple strategy to bolster friendships. This is no different when you’re on placement. The feedback I’ve heard from nurses is that they love when students show enthusiasm and interest in the clinical setting. Be interested – ask questions, be genuinely curious.
You can demonstrate your dedication to learning and curiosity by asking questions to your preceptor about procedures, protocols, even how they got into this particular area and what they like about it. An important thing to remember throughout your placements is that all clinical areas offer learning experiences, whether it’s an area that you see yourself working in or not. Even if you think you never want to work in that area of nursing, focus on what you can learn and let that drive your enthusiasm and hunger for learning. When staff know that you are genuinely interested, they will invest time in teaching you and find extended educational opportunities to challenge you. This will make your placement far more challenging, stimulating and rewarding.
- Show initiative
This is a tricky one – I’m not suggesting you go around and do things independently right away on your placement, that could risk breaching your scope. What I mean is displaying initiative by offering to do tasks that you know are pending. Try to anticipate what your preceptor will ask you to do next and offer to do it first. These can be simple tasks at first like offering to set the patients up for dinner. As your confidence and experience grows you may progress to more complex tasks like opening the medication charts and asking your preceptor if they would like to supervise the medications that are due soon.
Showing initiative can also mean clarifying your scope if you feel it is unclear for the clinical setting or requesting additional educational resources from your preceptor to expand your understanding. These strategies will help you to develop a rapport with the staff, meaning their confidence in your skills will grow and you may be rewarded with more learning opportunities!
- Seek and give feedback
Remember, placement is there for you to learn. The staff do not expect you to know how to do everything perfectly. In fact, they may become concerned if they think you aren’t willing to ask for feedback or clarification! Ask for feedback regularly, doing it at the end of every shift is a good guide. Asking for feedback not only demonstrates your hunger for learning but also serves as recognition that you and your preceptor are a team.
Finally, remember to give feedback. Supervisory staff want to do right by you and offer you education and challenge. If they’re doing well, make sure you let them know! Feedback works both ways and if you think about their perspective, they’ve likely spent eight hours not only worrying about their patients but also investing in you and ensuring that you’re being stimulated enough and giving you feedback. Give them a little love back.
The interpersonal challenges you may face on clinical placement are not unique, they are common challenges that people face when navigating a new workplace and joining an already established team. Hopefully, these simple strategies will hold you in good stead for your nursing careers, to your graduate years and beyond!
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