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Nursing Student Survival Guide: The First Clinical Shift

nursing student surviving the first clinical shift

Nursing Student Survival Guide: The First Clinical Shift

It’s here – your first clinical shift. You’ve heard horror stories and you don’t know what to expect. You feel like you are about to be thrown to the wolves with no escape. Don’t panic! It’s absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed and clueless. Read on for some tips to make it through and live another clinical day.

1) Get Some Shut-Eye

If you haven’t seen the light of day before 10:00 am, you are in for quite the surprise. Get ready to see the sunrise and drink more coffee than you’ve ever had. Try starting an earlier sleep routine a couple of nights in advance so your body can get used to your new sleep schedule. Turn off the Netflix, drink some sleepy-time tea, calm yourself down and get a solid six to eight hours. Everything will be less overwhelming with proper sleep and a clear mind.

2) Wakey, Wakey, Eggs and Bakey (or Kale and Bananas)

Carve out some time and make sure you eat something healthy that will sustain you for the first part of the morning or evening, depending on the shift. Make a smoothie, oatmeal with nuts, eggs and toast or whatever works for you in order to keep yourself going strong. The day is a long one.

If the thought of breakfast early in the morning makes you sick, try something light to at least get something in your system, and keep something like a granola bar on hand to eat when it gets a little later. But not too late. Nobody wants to be the nursing student who faints on the first day, my friends.

3) Review

On the first day, you will mostly just be taking everything in. It’s all about the experience, and you aren’t expected to know what to do. That being said, review some skills to make sense of everything that you are observing. Use Picmonic to go over your nursing fundamentals (what’s the “P” in ADPIE again?!) and meds so you can apply what you learned in class and labs to real-life situations with real patients.

4) Ask Questions, Offer Help

You are there to learn.  Don’t be afraid to ask every question that comes to your mind, because it will only help you become a better nurse.  Search for the resources on the unit that will help you, and find the nurses who are more willing to answer questions. Offer your help to the best of your ability as a nursing student. This way you’ll learn faster, and as a bonus, the nurses you shadow will be more inclined to help you.

5) Talk it Out, Write it Out

The first day on the unit, you will probably experience sites and smells that are completely foreign to you. If you need a moment, take some time to breathe and collect yourself. Everyone can respect that (remember, no fainting!)

After your shift, find someone you can debrief with about your experience. Talking out any stressful situations will help you reflect and learn from what happened.

Also, take a few minutes at the end of the day to jot down some experiences that you had. Not only will it help with the reflection process, but as a nursing student, at some point you will more than likely have to complete a reflection assignment. Having these notes already written down will save you time later on when you are wracking your brain and trying to remember how you felt about your first day on the unit. Your future self with thank you.

Remember, getting thrown into the clinical world is a culture shock for every new nursing student. Take it one day at a time. Eventually it will feel normal, and being on the unit will feel like a second home. Happy clinicals!

Want to make sure you’re ready for everything clinicals will throw at you? Sign up for your free trial of Picmonic for Nursing today!

Marlee Liberman

Marlee Liberman, RN, Master Nursing Scholar

As a registered nurse, Marlee understands the struggles that nursing school throws at you – not to mention the overwhelming pressure preparing for the NCLEX®! Marlee brings a unique skill set and perspective to Picmonic with her previous degree in broadcast journalism, her creativity in video production, and her wandering nomad lifestyle. Her blend of talents provides her with the knack for simplifying complicated concepts and demystifying the world of nursing.

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