• Nine Ways to Care for Yourself During Clinicals

    By Cassie Applegate, RN, contributor

    Starting clinicals can be a stressful, scary, exciting, and rewarding time in nursing school. Some student nurses have no healthcare experience prior to starting clinicals, so it can seem extra intimidating. Some have had healthcare experience, but can still find it hard to step into a new role as a nursing student and future nurse. Regardless of where you’re coming from, it’s important to take care of yourself during this time and take full advantage of the learning opportunities.

    So, here are a few tips to make this transition a little smoother:

    Eat breakfast. No matter where you are in your rotation, a good breakfast is a must. It can help prevent the drop in blood sugar (thus preventing passing out in the OR), prevent headaches, and give you the energy you need to do so much physical and mental work.

    Drink water. Drink lots of water before starting and continue to drink water throughout your shifts. Many students get headaches during clinicals and oftentimes it is due to working a 12-hour shift without properly hydrating.

    Wear comfortable clothes. Most likely you must wear your school scrubs, but if you know you are always cold, think about putting a layer underneath them or bringing a jacket, if allowed. If you are always hot, wear thinner socks, don’t layer, and wear a short-sleeved top. Wear comfortable shoes. Shoes can make or break your experience. Don’t wear brand-new shoes. Although they must meet hospital standards, make sure they are worn-in, comfortable, and will last you through the day.

    Take breaks. Breaks can help you process the information you have been learning throughout the day, and give you time to just take a breath. Bathroom breaks are mandatory (especially due to all of the water you will be drinking!), If you’re having an especially hard time on a given day, a break can give you the time you need to vent, cry, or do a quick meditation to get you through it.

    Bring comfort items. If you are prone to headaches, bring medications that help alleviate them. If you have asthma, bring your inhaler. If you have an essential oil or natural stress reliever, bring it. Bring coffee or tea in the morning, if you drink them. Bring snacks and a big lunch.

    Ask for help. If you have never done something before or don’t feel comfortable doing something, ask for help. You should never feel as though you are unsupported or left alone. Ask your clinical instructor, classmate, nurse, or CNA for help if you need it. This is a time to take advantage of your resources, because soon you will be independent. Ask questions and see how other people do things. Admit to your patients that you are a student and are new at this. They will be more forgiving and sometimes they can give you great tips on how to do things.

    Jump at every opportunity. Again, take advantage of this time as a student. Tell the nurses you will be working with that you want to see as much as you can and do as much as you can during your stay. If you communicate your eagerness to learn, oftentimes nurses will help you to see interesting procedures, be a part of codes, start all of the IVs, and drag you into everything they can. Use this opportunity to practice giving report to the oncoming nurse. You will never forget some of the experiences you get to be a part of during this time.

    Be prepared. This does not mean that you should sit at the nurses’ station reading your textbooks during your clinical time. This means prepare the night before, asking previous students about what to expect, and being well-educated on the skills expected of you during your time. You want to hit the ground running.

    Reflect. A reflection may be a part of your clinical assignment. If not, try writing down some of the things you experienced and learned during your day; this can be a time to help process everything and solidify your understanding. Not only will you learn clinical skills, but you will learn how to speak with patients and how to handle emotional and stressful situations. It can also help you start learning how to not take work “home with you.” Writing a reflection is a way to acknowledge what you went through, write it down, and learn to leave it there. Talking with your classmates and clinical instructors also helps you with this.

    Clinicals are a time to transition from learning how to be a nurse, to practicing being a nurse. For some, this can be a smooth and easy transition; for others, it takes quite a bit more effort. But just remind yourself you can do it! Stick it out, take advantage of this time, and you will come out on the other side a new and competent nurse.

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