The Big Mistake You're Making in Your Nursing School Clinicals (and how to fix it)

You attend clinical faithfully.  You know what is expected in order to pass.  You know what it takes to succeed in clinical. You complete the skills and assignments expected of you before you move on to the next clinical and start the process over again.  However, before you move on to your next clinical, there is an important step you must take.  

You need to write down a brief summary about your experiences during each clinical. 

Seriously? Yes. Seriously.  Read on to find out why ignoring this small but powerful step could cost you in the near future. 

Many nursing students are making this same mistake each semester every time they start a new clinical.  What is this mistake and how is it affecting your future as a nurse?  Click through to learn how exactly you can correct it and stay on the path to success!


What's the big deal about writing down what happened in each clinical?  

Well, take a moment to imagine yourself sitting in an interview for a nursing job being faced with these questions:

Give an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team.  How did you handle that?

Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client.  What was the situation, and how did you handle it?

Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure.  What was going on, and how did you get through it?

Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself.  How did you go about ensuring that you would meet your objective?

(Source: 30 Behavioral Interview Questions You Should Be Ready to Answer by Lily Zhang @ TheMuse)

The questions above are examples of behavioral interview questions.  Behavioral interview questions are quickly becoming the norm in healthcare because managers only want the best team members.  Because healthcare has made a dramatic shift towards patient-centered care, it is even more important that managers hire employees who have the skills to positively interact with patients.

When I was interviewed for my current job, I answered a few standard interview questions, but I remember being asked questions that were meant to reveal my character and behaviors.  Kleneice's interview, on the other hand, consisted entirely of behavioral questions.

Behavioral interview questions can be intimidating because they require you to tell a story about yourself.  You can't answer these questions with a canned response of one or two words.  You must be prepared to elaborate how your experiences in the past have prepare you for the position.

What exactly is the best way to prepare for these interview questions?  Keep a journal and record your clinical experiences.  Unless you have an amazing memory, it is likely that as you progress through nursing school, you could forget the challenges and victories you experienced in your earlier clinicals.  You definitely want to remember these details about your clinicals because your interviewer will want to know how you have behaved in the healthcare setting before.


Topics Worth Including in Your Journal

The sky is the limit about what to include in your clinical journal.  However, it would be a great idea to address the common themes of behavioral interview questions which include goal setting and achievement, challenges you have faced, and your strengths and weaknesses.

Goal-setting and achievement

What goals did you set for yourself during clinical?
How did you plan to meet those goals?  
Did you meet your goals?
What skills did you perform?  
What skills do you need to work on?  
Write about how proud you felt when you performed a skill correctly for the first time.  

Strengths and Weaknesses

Be sure to include what you learned about yourself at the end of the clinical day.  Maybe after a challenging day on Med/Surg you realized that you needed to work on your time management skills.  How are you going to get more organized for the next clinical day?
What have you realized you excel at?
What do you need to work on?
What is your plan to address your weaknesses?

Challenges You Have Faced 

A great format for answering these questions and writing about difficulties in your journal is the PAR format. 

Problem - what was the challenge that you faced during this clinical?

Action -  what action did you take to address this challenge?

Result - what was the result of your action?  Did it solve the problem? Make it worse?. 


During clinical, do you find yourself assisting your peers and the other staff?  
What happened as a result of offering your help to someone else?  Perhaps you were able to meet an interesting patient or participate in a procedure that you otherwise would have missed out on.  Be sure to document the ways that you have shown your value as a team member.

It would also be beneficial to write about any group projects or assignments that you may have in nursing school. The next time you have a group project take note of the task at hand.  
How are you all working together to craft a good project/presentation?  
Are all the group members engaged?  
Is someone not pulling their weight? 
How are you handling problems as they arise?  
Are you taking the lead and assigning roles?  If so how are you making assignments? 

Putting It All Together

Journaling does not have to take several hours a week.  To keep things simple, you can make a habit of writing in your journal after each clinical experience. After completing clinical for the day, you could take 10-15 minutes and write down what happened. You will derive the greatest benefit from journaling consistently so you don't miss writing about any significant events that could truly help you shine in an interview.

What is the best way to keep a journal while you're in school?  The great thing about journaling is that you have freedom to set it up however you'd like.  You can keep a small notebook, loose paper and a binder, or you can keep notes on your phone.

Do you want to make sure your journal covers the essentials that you need to be prepared for those behavioral interview questions? Well, you're in luck because Kleneice and I have designed a printable clinical journal that you can use for each clinical! 

Go ahead and download the printable clinical journal and let us know if it helps you!