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Top 10 Tips for a Successful Nurse Practitioner Clinical Rotation

As a nurse practitioner student, you’ve had at least a year of nursing experience. But going through training as a registered nurse is vastly different from your preceptorship for your nurse practitioner program.

Stay tuned for a list of actionables you can implement, rinse and repeat to get you one step closer to being the real deal nurse practitioner.

Like most good things in life, planning and preparation is not only key, it’s the crux to optimal end results. A wedding that goes off without a hitch, coordinating outfits and the perfect locale for a memorable photo sesh, and a clinical rotation that enhances your learning and preps you to be a rockstar provider— you see it right?!?

TIP #1: Share expectations with your preceptor

The last thing you want to feel is disappointed about your clinical rotation experience. So first things first—set a time prior to your first clinical day, to go over how to make this rotation a success. Bonus tip: It’s a nice gesture to pick up a coffee or a drink for them as a way to break the ice or build your relationship.

While this portion can be done virtually, if you meet in person at the clinical site, you can also take care of a few more things while at the facility.

Let your preceptor be aware of the following:

  • Your background: experience, level in program, graduation date

  • A tentative plan for independent/collaborative care

  • Goals and objectives for the rotation, or pertinent skills you’d like to develop. For example, number of well child checks or well woman exams, suturing, EKGs.

Clarify preferences by obtaining answers to the following questions:

  • Do you only observe on the first day

  • How should you as the NP student present yourself at each patient visit

  • How are you to present the patient to your preceptor

  • How will you discuss patients: can you ask questions while seeing patients or wait until you’re out of the room


Tip #2: Learn about the office staff and culture.

Think of yourself as a contracted employee; you’re there for a short time with the possibility of becoming a permanent part of the team. Meet the office staff, learn their names and their roles. As you engage with them, you’ll find out who the most knowledgeable and friendly staff are if you need help.

Find out about:

  • Dress code: business casual, scrubs, dress down Friday. Should you wear your lab coat

  • Lunch time/breaks: Is the office closed for lunch, how long? Is there a fridge/microwave available for use

  • Internet access

  • Parking


Tip #3: Research and be familiar with the top 10 diagnoses

For each site, start with learning the 10 most common conditions treated within the clinic. Learn how to assess these patients. What diagnostic tools, if any, are used? What are the treatment options and guidelines? What follow up is necessary?


Tip #4: Optimize the patient visit

These days, patient appointment times are condensed.

It takes a great amount of finesse for an experienced provider to display compassion, empathy, expertise and efficiency in a 15-minute patient visit.

To do all of this as a nurse practitioner in training is doubly difficult.

Here are some things to try:

  • Start with a friendly greeting and introduce yourself–give your name and role.

  • If the patient is there for more than 1 reason, narrow the visit to the top 1 or 2 concerns.

  • Learn and use key phrases that acknowledge the patient’s needs while prioritizing their main concern to keep you on a time track

  • Have a template or flowsheet for every patient counter


Tip #5: Have your references and resources handy

You won’t be expected to know every diagnosis, guideline, or treatment option for each patient that comes in to be seen, as an NP student, or ever for that matter. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be prepared to learn more about a condition or process.

Create a folder on your phone or tablet and have your favorite apps for prescribing, clinical content and references, vaccine schedules, population specific guidelines and recommendations and other resources for clinical rotation success.


Tip #6: Take initiative

One of the main goals of your rotation is to develop the hands-on clinical experience under guidance of an experienced clinician. Ideally, at the end of your clinical rotation, you are independently managing patients with minimal coaching. Just like in nursing, you get the best experience when you’re actively involved vs observing. So while it can be intimidating to take initiative, do so by easing in or diving right in, based on your preference and/or preceptor’s preference.

Speak up and take advantage of opportunities to learn new skills that interest you and you’re not yet familiar with. For instance: joint injections, EKGs, or xrays.


Tip #7: Organize your time

Make the most of your clinical time by charting on your patients during your clinical day. Completing coursework documentation in real time helps you stay efficient and keeps you from bringing work home. Take time to learn about the patient’s diagnosis and conditions, history, plan of care and educational needs prior to and during their visit. Then review information later, if needed, to get a deeper understanding.

Once you’ve observed a few visits, you’ll have an idea of the flow. Create a worksheet and/or template to streamline the information from your patient visits and use it to properly present to your preceptor.


Tip #8: Regularly review and evaluate your clinical experience and progress

While it’s impossible to extensively review every patient you’ve encountered, you should set up a time when you regularly meet with your preceptor to discuss complex or interesting cases.

It’s easy to forgo this portion of the preceptorship, but this is critical to your success. Make this a time that’s convenient for your preceptor or when they are at their peak energy for the day.

You also want to track your progress toward your goals. Review those expectations set out at the beginning of the rotation. How are things looking? Do you need to make any changes?


Tip #9: Develop your provider identity

Shifting from nurse to provider can be hard if you find yourself working in a nurse role while concurrently completing clinical rotations towards your graduate degree. Start to embrace your new clinician title with a professional and caring bedside manner. Also, develop interpersonal relationships with colleagues and support staff in your healthcare team.


Tip #10: Be thoughtful

Show gratitude, say thank you, and demonstrate your appreciation to your preceptor and staff that have helped to make your clinical rotation possible and hopefully a success. Many preceptors volunteer their time to teach students and receive no compensation for their efforts.

Remember those who contributed to your advancement in the profession. And where possible, pay it forward.

For more tips to becoming a successful nurse practitioner, download a free resource.

About the Author

Josie Tate is a successful nurse practitioner, visionary nurse leader, and inspirational career mentor. She is the creator of Clincepts, a professional development resource that helps bridge the gap for nurses transitioning into advanced practice.

Nurse practitioners across the industry get and stay happily hired using strategies from Josie’s proven framework. At its core, Clincepts empowers and equips nurse practitioners to stand out, shine bright, and speak up as the best candidates for the job.

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