Unhappy With Your Clinical Rotation in Nursing School: Now what?

March 4, 2015

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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In surgeryYou may have been anticipating your clinical rotations in nursing school since day one. Whether you can’t wait to get started working with patients or are a little nervous, clinical experience is a big part of nursing school. After all, you can only learn so much about patients from lectures and book work. Dealing with real life situations and people in the hospital is a great learning experience.


Although nursing schools may structure clinical rotations differently, many have students rotate through a hospital each semester. Depending on how many healthcare facilities are affiliated with your school, you may rotate through a different hospital each semester. But what do you do if your clinical rotation is disappointing or you are unhappy with the experience?

Determining the Problem

Clinical is a big part of your nursing education. It allows you to put to practice the information you learned in the classroom. If you have a bad clinical rotation experience, it can impact your ability to learn everything you should.

The first thing you should do is take an honest look at the problem. Think about what is bothering you. Are you unhappy with your preceptors, the facility or limitations during your rotation? For instance, you may like the hospital and enjoy working with your preceptor, but feel you are not given opportunities to do very much.

If the problem is with your preceptor, consider what the issue is. Is the preceptor a poor teacher or too rushed to explain things? Some people are better teachers than others, and not everyone enjoys being a preceptor.

Remember, not all negative experiences in clinical rotations require an intervention by your instructor. Be honest with yourself and decide if it is just a personality clash or if the problem is with you.

What is Not Acceptable?

The most important factor to consider is whether your clinical rotation is providing learning opportunities. If the answer is no, you have a problem. If for whatever reason, you are not getting anything out of your clinical rotation, you should speak with your professor.

If you are dealing with any of the situations below, you need to talk with your teacher as soon as possible.  

Everyone has a bad day. But if your preceptor insults you or is disrespectful, you do not need to tolerate that. The preceptor’s supervisor needs to be aware of the situation. In other cases, your preceptor may just be a bad teacher or not want to take a student. Supervisors may try to put nursing students with staff who are good teachers and enjoy working with students, but it does not always work out.

Sometimes it may be easier and quicker for a nurse to do something on their own. But the idea of clinical rotations is to allow you to have hands on experience. You will not get to do everything you want. But you should have a list of skills and procedures you need to perform, and the opportunity to perform many of them.

It is great if your preceptor trusts you, but if they use you as a licensed nurse because they are short-staffed, there is a problem. As a nursing student, you are not licensed. There are certain things you may be able to do unsupervised and other things you cannot. Know the difference, and speak up if you are asked to do something you are not comfortable with.  

Handling the Situation  

The good news is, as a student, you do not need to handle the situation on your own. Talk to your teacher about the problem. Make sure you have defined the issue before discussing it. You want to be able to state clearly what is going.  

Your teacher should address the problem with a nurse manager or educational coordinator. Nursing schools and hospitals have agreements to accept students on clinical rotations. It is not like students just show up. Hospitals have a responsibility to provide learning opportunities. The facility you are working in knows what needs to be covered and agreed to work with students. If they are not fulfilling their agreement, your teachers need to know.

How to Make the Best of Each Clinical Rotation

Depending on what the problem is, your teacher may move you to another location, ask for a different preceptor or advise you to deal with the issue the best you can. There are several things you can do to make the most out of each clinical rotation.

If you are disappointed with some aspect of your clinical rotation, don’t let that spill over onto your attitude. If you are unhappy and have a bad attitude, it could affect those around you including your preceptors.

You may not have all the opportunities you want, but you are likely to learn something. Whether you learn how to work with difficult people or develop confidence in your abilities, look for learning opportunities. 

Sometimes you may have a preceptor who knows their stuff, but is just not a good communicator. It is perfectly acceptable to ask questions. Sometimes a prompt from a question can get the ball rolling.  

If there is something you need to learn or a procedure you need to perform, let your preceptor know. Some preceptors are better than others at keeping track of what you need to do. But it is your responsibility to know what you need to cover during your clinical rotation. 

Every moment of clinical will not involve patient care. You will likely have some downtime. Ask if you can observe other nurses doing procedures, talk with staff and study. There is a lot you can learn during downtime.

Every clinical rotation will not be the same. Some rotations and preceptors will be better than others. You don’t have to love each experience to learn something from it. It may also be helpful to remember, rotations end. If you are disappointed with a particular clinical rotation, you will be moving on to a new one in time.