Clinicals in Nursing Education: FAQ


Clinicals are an essential part of your development as a nurse practitioner (NP); these hands-on experiences complement your nursing education, allowing for the opportunity to apply learned concepts in the real world and further your competencies as a provider.

NPs provide high-quality healthcare services across the lifespan and in diverse settings. The learnings gained from your clinicals will equip you with the knowledge you'll need to make a difference as a patient care leader.

Read our latest blog to get answers to some commonly asked questions about clinicals as you earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.


clinicals preceptor

What Is the Role of a Preceptor During Clinicals?

The clinical education of NP students involves a partnership of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), physicians, physician assistants, and other health professionals. Since NPs fall under the APRN umbrella, learning from practicing APRNs grants NP students insight into their future roles.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), a preceptor's role is to create "a safe setting for the APRN student to gain experience and develop clinical competency to effectively manage the consistent population with the role for which they are being educated."

Your preceptor is more than a teacher or a mentor. They will help you learn from their experience and serve as a role model. During your clinicals, your preceptor will bridge the gap between classroom learnings and practice by providing guidance and useful feedback, setting objectives, teaching protocols, and encouraging critical thinking.

By reinforcing classroom concepts and incorporating best practices, your preceptor will help ensure safe and effective patient outcomes.


clinicals location

Where Will I Do My Clinicals?

Clinicals are arranged with the approval of your program faculty. The logistics of your clinicals, including your preceptor and clinical site location, must be approved for all clinical rotations. Depending on requirements and site availability, you can do your clinicals in various healthcare settings, including:

  • Family practice offices
  • Internal medicine clinics
  • Pediatrician offices
  • Urgent care sites
  • Hospitals
  • Community health clinics

Your program faculty will communicate your intended clinical progression and outcome objectives for each clinical rotation with your preceptor.

How Many Hours of Clinicals Are Required?

Clinical hours vary depending on program requirements and can also differ based on concentration.

In the online MSN-NP degree program at Spring Arbor University, Adult-Gerontology students must meet a minimum of 500 hours; whereas, students taking the Family Nurse Practitioner track have an additional two credits, equaling a total of 625 clinical hours. Students in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program must complete 570 hours, and those on the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP-PC) track will complete 530 hours.

Are There Special Requirements for Clinicals?

Before starting your clinical rotation, you'll need to verify and document some screenings and records such as:

  • Background check
  • Drug screening
  • HIPAA training
  • OSHA training
  • Verification of health insurance
  • Immunization records
  • Blood titers

Spring Arbor's supportive staff and faculty will guide you and provide a list of the documentation you'll need before beginning your first round of clinicals. Students will also be able to determine if any sites in their area have affiliation agreements with the school.


clinicals experience

What Will I Learn from Clinical Experience?

NP students are taught seven core competencies. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) lists them as:

  • Management of patient health
  • Teaching and coaching
  • Professional role
  • Managing healthcare delivery systems
  • Monitoring quality of healthcare practices
  • Culturally-sensitive care
  • Nurse practitioner-patient relationship

Preceptors help students determine which of their competencies have the opportunity for improvement or need focus.

After you complete your clinicals as part of your advanced nursing education, you will have the preparation and ability to:

  • Diagnose and develop treatment plans
  • Manage and treat common health problems
  • Encourage health and wellness with your patients through preventive care and education
  • Develop collaborative relationships with colleagues and other healthcare leaders
  • Determine when referrals are appropriate

What Does the Preceptor Gain from My Clinicals?

A preceptor's role is both challenging and rewarding. Treating patients as a clinician and filling the role of educator can be a juggling act.

Preceptors may be expected to provide clinical training to NP students at different levels, from the novice to the near-graduate, all of whom will have different skill sets and diverse experiences.

However, most preceptors embrace the opportunity to pay it forward and give back to the profession by teaching a new generation of NPs.

Some benefits preceptors experience include:

  • Patient care assistance once the student reaches an appropriate level
  • The opportunity for new and exciting collaboration which bolsters morale
  • Leadership skills to their CV, which strengthens their professional experience
  • Potential credit toward CE courses or recertification requirements, offered by many nursing schools


how can i maximize my clinicals

How Can I Maximize My Clinicals?

Many students wonder how they can make the most out of their clinicals. Here are a few tips we’ve compiled.

Be Prepared

Do your best to map out your first day of clinicals.

If you need confirmation, email your preceptor ahead of your start date; know where to meet them, at what time, and confirm the attire you should wear. If you were asked to review documents ahead of time, be sure to do that, so you get off on the right foot with your preceptor.

Study and review the pertinent clinical knowledge for the site you'll be working in before your clinicals start. Be ready to research best-practices so you can provide your best care.

Remember, your preceptor doesn't expect you to know everything at this point—your clinicals are a learning experience. If you're not familiar with something, ask for help or clarification.

Be an Active Learner

Take advantage of your clinicals by fully embracing your future role as a nurse practitioner.

Learn all you can from the expertise of your preceptor. Incorporate feedback into your practice and stay engaged throughout your learning experience. Your clinicals are meant to help you become your best as a future NP.

Communicate your unique experience with your preceptor. Always let them know what areas you're interested in or skills you're hoping to hone—combining this with your clinicals' objective outcomes will help you grow as a professional.

When possible, participate in additional opportunities to learn and master new skills. Each experience offers takeaways that will help you develop further.

Be Professional

Being professional goes a long way—it will help you build relationships and gain professional references. It's also an excellent way to keep you grounded and respectful of boundaries as you develop your practice.

Always show respect for your preceptor, peers, and patients by demonstrating a strong work ethic. Avoid phone calls or texting during your clinicals, unless it's an emergency. You want your feedback to be positive, as your preceptor is in regular communication with your program faculty.

Take Notes

Clinicals are the best place to learn, so take notes as often as you can.

You'll gain knowledge every day, either from patient encounters or feedback given by your preceptor. If it's too busy to take notes, or there isn't the opportunity to reflect at your site, you can also journal about your day after clinicals—this will help you grow holistically.

Ask questions, take the time to research what you don't know, and check back in with your preceptor. Be sure to keep those notes for future reference.

A Bright Outlook for NPs

After completing all of your clinicals, graduating from your program, and becoming licensed, you're ready to start your journey as an NP and experience a bright future.

There are currently 290,000 nurse practitioners in the country. While some industries are experiencing a bleak job outlook, nurse practitioners' employment is expected to grow 26 percent through the year 2028.

In Demand

Much of the demand for NPs is building because fewer physicians enter the field of family practice medicine. In 2019, only eight percent of physicians pursued a primary care residency. In contrast, nearly 90% of nurse practitioners were prepared to practice in primary care.

According to new data published in June 2020 by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. could see an estimated shortage of between 21,400 and 55,200 primary care physicians by 2033. As an NP, you'll help bridge gaps in primary care and deliver high-quality care to those in need.


spring arbor university online nursing programs

A Unique Approach to Learning

As an NP, you'll enjoy greater autonomy, a bright outlook, and more influence in the care of your patients. With an online MSN degree from Spring Arbor University, you can take your nursing career to the next level.

The online MSN-NP program is designed to instill the knowledge and clinical reasoning skills needed to prevent, assess, treat and manage acute and chronic disease. As an online MSN-NP student, you'll enjoy a convenient course delivery schedule, a solid educational foundation, and strong passing rates for licensure – all while being connected to a supportive faith-based community.

Flexible and Manageable

SAU's specialized approach to online learning will help you find the balance you need as a working nurse. The 7-1-7 model is uniquely designed so you can earn your degree without disturbing your work schedule or home life. You'll take one course at a time for seven weeks.

A one-week break in between courses will help you recharge and gain focus before starting your next class.

  • Benefits of SAU's MSN-NP Program
  • Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Small class sizes with caring and compassionate educators and staff
  • Dedicated Student Success Coach for one-on-one guidance throughout the program, including support during clinical placement
  • Strong licensure passing rates: 88% for first-time takers, 100% for second-time takers

With six intake dates per year, it's always a good time to enroll and get your career moving in a new and promising direction.


Learn more about Spring Arbor's online MSN-NP program.


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1. Challenges in Nursing: What Do Nurses Face on a Daily Basis?

2. Advantages of Being a Nurse Practitioner

3. Spring Arbor's Bridge MSN Program: 4 Benefits

4. Telehealth Nursing: Technology's Impact on Healthcare

5. 2020 in Review: SAU Online