top of page

What to expect in nursing school clinicals

Clinicals are often one of the scariest components of nursing school. In fact, over 54% of nursing students experience high levels of anxiety before starting clinicals, according to a 2023 study. However, that same study found 90% of students felt satisfied and prepared after their nursing school clinical experience.

To clear any worries, let’s walk through why clinicals matter and how to propel your career with your clinical experience. It is possible to experience the post-clinical high without the pre-clinical worry–here’s how.

Nursing Degree Requirements

Before we dive into the clinical component, it’s important to understand the elements of your nursing degree and how clinicals build off other requirements.

  • General education courses: these include foundational requirements, such as biology or anatomy.

  • Nursing-specific lectures: after you complete GenEd requirements, you’ll have to take some lecture-style courses on nursing specifically.

  • Simulation labs: as part of the lectures (or as standalone units), nursing students participate in simulated labs of challenges they could face as a nurse.

  • Clinicals: similar to an internship, this provides real-world experience as a nurse.

Usually, you’ll accomplish the first three components before you start clinicals. This will provide you with the knowledge needed to complete the clinical experiences. Even if you’re still taking some labs or nursing-specific lectures or have never worked in a healthcare setting, it’s important to remember your degree has prepared you for clinicals. You are more than enough to meet this challenge.

For a better understanding of what nursing school might look like, check out UNC’s nursing school or Duke University’s nursing school.

What are nursing school clinicals?

Your friends who are studying business or engineering are most likely completing an internship as part of their degree. Think of clinicals as a similar opportunity, but specific to nursing.

In a clinical, you are assigned to work in a healthcare setting. As you work alongside experienced nurses, you receive the hands-on training needed to thrive in the field and can determine what type of nursing work you prefer.

Usually, nursing students complete a number of clinicals. The first is in a general healthcare setting, while subsequent ones are in subspecialities that interest the student, such as psychiatric nursing or geriatric nursing.

Nursing School Clinical Day in the Life

A clinical instructor will supervise your work in a specific healthcare practice or hospital wing. Clinical instructors act as a bridge between your schoolwork and real-world experience. Sometimes, they teach lessons in a classroom while other times, they focus solely on clinical supervision.

Your clinical instructor will assign you a patient each day. It is your responsibility to plan care for the patient and to understand their history, treatments, and medications. If you have any questions, your clinical instructor is around to help, but they also grade your abilities.

Clinicals and Your Future

Along with learning more about day-to-day life as a nurse, a clinical is an opportunity to network and explore different nursing subspecialities.

To make the most of your clinicals, take these three career-building steps:

  • Get contact information for your supervisors: these supervisors can alert you of openings in their practice after you graduate or act as a reference for future job applications, but only if you keep in touch.

  • Ask other nurses about their career path: clinicals are a great time to get real-time feedback on why nurses choose the subspecialty they did and what they wish they knew sooner about nursing.

  • Add clinical experience to your HireMe Healthcare profile: right now, your experience is as fresh as it will be. Add it to your resume or HireMe Healthcare profile now to set yourself up for success during the job search. If you’re confused about how, contact Denise Jones, our Director of Nurse Relations, for a free coffee chat.

Nursing Clinicals Frequently Asked Questions

To wrap up, we wanted to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about nursing school clinicals.

What happens if you fail a clinical?

Failing a clinical means you’ve failed the class component too. If that same class and clinical component is offered another semester, you may be able to retake them.

Can you miss a day of clinicals?

Attendance at your clinicals is crucial. That being said, there are acceptable and unacceptable reasons to skip. Sleeping through an alarm or skipping a clinical to study for an exam are not acceptable reasons, while a family emergency or health emergency is a reason to skip, when you’ve communicated the issue with your clinical instructor.

Why is clinical practice important?

Clinical practice provides hand-on experience in the nursing field. It allows you to put what you’ve learned in the classroom to practice, which many argue is even more valuable than the classroom knowledge itself.


bottom of page