Why Are Placements Essential And Rewarding When Studying For A Degree?

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Placements Essential

Clinical placements are the practical side of university degrees and are carried out in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the elderly and primary care medical facilities.

As part of their training, students are required to complete a specified number of hours in a practical setting where they learn more about the principles and methods of nursing. During this time, nurses are assigned to a preceptor, or teacher, who supervises them and helps them with the translation of theoretical knowledge into practice.

Aside from the practical experience gained by attending placement facilities, state regulations require nurses and nurse practitioners (NPs) to complete their placement period in a certified clinical placement setting before they are able to graduate. The period for the placement is also determined by state regulations, with the minimum time being 500 hours.

Benefits of placement

For nurses who are just starting out, practical experience is essential, and invaluable. Theory is not enough to start out in a nursing career, and an intensive practical course teaches the basic nursing skills plus professional communication, a good bedside manner, administration and record keeping.

There is so much to learn. From a more senior perspective, such as nurse practitioner, placement means learning the more intricate details of patient care, particularly for NPs who are specializing in one of the disciplines, such as gerontology or pediatrics. We discuss the reasons why placements are so important when studying for a degree in nursing.

Practical knowledge

The obvious benefit of undergoing a placement term is the practical knowledge that is gained from real-life experiences in a clinical environment and learning the basic skills of the job, and the ability to regulate oneself when faced with long hours and traumatic situations.

For junior nurses, it is about learning how to communicate with patients, performing the necessary procedures to ensure their comfort and wellbeing, and learning the routines, such as administering medication and reporting to senior staff.

For the more senior nursing positions, practical experience means dealing with chronic conditions and creating treatment plans for patients, analyzing test results, diagnosing conditions and making recommendations for treatment of primary care patients or referring them to a physician. The best way to learn and remember is by watching and assisting other nurses and doctors as they administer care.

Learning professional skills

Nurses interact with people from all walks of life, from physicians and specialists to patients from various backgrounds. Learning to treat patients with dignity and kindness and interacting professionally with doctors and other nurses are all part of the experience gained during the placement period.

Teamwork

An important part of the practical placement work is learning to work in teams. Nurses work together as they make beds, administer and document medication, and make decisions about patient care and safety. It is also important for nurses to learn how to work in multi-disciplinary teams. It very often comes down to the nurse handling the administrative side of the process and communicating with the rest of the team, providing treatment updates and keeping track of specialist visits.

Leadership skills

Leadership is not just about good management. It comes into play in many situations where a decision needs to be made, or someone needs to take charge of an emergency situation. Good leadership is the way in which one conducts themselves — it is about maturity and being able to make decisions with confidence while maintaining a pleasant disposition.

However, leadership skills are not necessarily going to be needed to begin with. It is important for student nurses to watch and learn as they do their practical work, and to decide what they can take away from the experience.

Communication skills

Effective communication in medical situations can mean the difference between life and death. Nurses learn how to communicate effectively over time, but there needs to be an awareness of the importance of communication in a clinical setting. Recording treatment and medications administered is part of the practical experience gained during placement, and although often tedious, it is an important part of the job.

Critical analysis skills

Through experience, nurses learn how to manage certain situations by applying critical thinking and analysis skills. These skills are particularly important in emergency situations, as there is no room for error. This is obviously going to take time and students are unlikely to get the benefit of experiencing the whole spectrum of cases during their couple of months in placement, but it is a good grounding for teaching nurses how to think and make important decisions.

Employment opportunities

While working in a placement setting, students should conduct themselves in a professional manner by being polite, helpful and eager to learn. They should show a genuine interest by asking questions and make a point of learning more about the subject when they have the time. This kind of behavior is likely to pique the interest of staff in the hospital or clinic, and when looking for a job later, there may be vacancies within the placement institution, and if not, the diligent student is more than likely to receive a good recommendation for employment elsewhere.

Transition and induction of nurses

The transition of nurses from an environment of study to a clinical environment is often traumatic, and an article published by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) suggests that 25% of nurses leave their jobs in their first year of practice. Newly graduated nurses and nurse practitioners find themselves in a situation where they have a lot of theoretical knowledge but have not yet been able to put this knowledge into practice.

It can be very daunting when starting out in a new career. Nurse practitioners have extensive clinical experience, but after graduation they suddenly find themselves taking on a lot more responsibility than they possibly realized. They may also move from a position as a senior nurse to a junior nurse practitioner — a situation that takes some adjustment. When doubt creeps in, it is important for one to remind themselves why they are doing this, see the bigger picture and know that they will get there in time. It takes perseverance.

This period of adjustment is made easier with the placement program, allowing nurses and NPs to experience their new responsibilities and tasks while being guided by a competent preceptor, or trainer. A preceptor is an expert in the medical field: someone who is passionate about what they do and is happy to take the time to train and monitor student nurses for compliance with the practical requirements of their degree studies.

State regulations specify the number of practical hours that students need in order to graduate, and many universities offer placement programs as part of the degree. This gives students more time to focus on their studies and alleviates the stress that they are likely to experience when having difficulty in finding a suitable placement program.

Placement programs

Placement programs differ according to the various disciplines being studied, and to the various levels of study. Junior nurses who are busy with their bachelor’s degree in nursing are required to undergo extensive practical training as the assumption is that they will not have worked in a clinical setting before. This is not always the case, but certainly junior nurses benefit from an extended placement period. Nurse practitioners are changing direction, and their skillset can possibly change quite drastically from what it used to be as a registered nurse. They too can benefit immensely from a placement term that lasts a couple of months.

Unfortunately, employers do not always see it that way, and nurses and nurse practitioners who are studying online while they still hold down a full-time job have to do some juggling with annual leave and study leave (if they are lucky enough to get some), in order to fit in their placement term.

Placement hours can be broken up into sections, according to what subjects and specialties the nurse hopes to qualify in. For example, a nurse practitioner may be specializing in family nursing, and can do some time in a family clinic and later work in a home for the aged, and further down the line, work in a pediatric ward. As long as they make up the required hours and get the appropriate experience, the placements are quite flexible.

Many universities do not offer a placement service, leaving students to make their own arrangements. This involves making numerous phone calls to institutions to try and find a suitable placement vacancy. Ideally, students should find something close to home or to their place of work so that it is not too much of a disruption, but often they need to travel or take up residence in another geographical location for the duration of their placement.

Varying state regulations

It is important to note that finding placement in a different state to the one in which one plans to practice could be problematic. Different states have different regulations regarding nursing practice, and studying in another state may result in the time spent in a placement position not being recognized by the home state, or educational institution. Nurse practitioners in particular are bound by state regulations, and it depends on which state they live and work in as to how and what they are permitted to practice.

Most states today give nurse practitioners full autonomy to open their own practice or to practice in a primary care setting under the supervision of the physicians in the practice, but there are exceptions. This means that if a nurse is unable to find placement or secure the services of a preceptor in their state, they need to check the regulations thoroughly to a placement elsewhere that will be recognized by their university or college. Non-compliance with the regulations could mean that they will be unable to graduate at their university of preference.

Shortage of preceptors

There is currently a shortage of preceptors, and nurses who have enrolled with universities that do not offer a placement service often battle to find a facility or a preceptor who is willing to take them on. Clinical institutions have limited vacancies for placement students, and some do not take students at all. Universities who offer placement programs get first choice as they have undertaken to train their students and have agreements in place with the various clinical facilities. This means that many students are left on a waiting list, sometimes starting their course with a hope that they will find a preceptor, and others put their studies off for another semester. In both cases, it can be very demotivating, and often ends up with people changing course and studying something else instead. This is hardly a satisfactory outcome considering the urgent need for qualified nurses and NPs.

Enjoy peace of mind with a guaranteed nurse practitioner placement when enrolling for the Master of Science in Nursing program with Texas Woman’s University (TWU). Those who live or work in a different state can check their eligibility for registration with TWU, in compliance with the latest state regulations. Nursing students can focus on their studies while TWU takes care of the practical side of the degree, which places students in a suitable environment for their career path, while reducing their stress levels and saving time.

Final thoughts

For those who aspire to earning an online master’s degree in nursing, there is no need to hesitate. Students can equip themselves with the clinical expertise to take their nursing experience to a new level, and fulfill their dreams of a rewarding and satisfying career. The practical side of the degree provides invaluable experience and facilitates the transition from nurse to nurse practitioner in a safe, effective manner. Take time to observe, listen, and learn from preceptors, and enjoy the journey.

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