With so many great nurse practitioner programs to choose from, it can be hard to decide where to apply. One area that can slip under the radar when deciding which nurse practitioner school to apply is... clinical placements. Clinical placement is a particularly important factor to research when selecting schools, because clinical placements are where you will be doing some of your most important form of learning in graduate school.
Ask yourself the following questions when researching schools:
- Does the NP school arrange clinical placements for their students? If so, how many placements? All or only a few?
- Are you expected to arrange any of the clinical placements yourself?
- If so, do you know any healthcare professionals (i.e. nurse practitioners, physicians, and physician assistants) who would be willing to precept you?
- Where are your clinical placements? Are they located at a school-affiliated hospital or clinic? Or could the placements be located on the other side of the country?
- How far are you willing to travel to attend clinical rotations? If your NP program is scheduling clinical placements for you, do they mention how far you may need to go to get there?
A great portion of your clinical knowledge stems from interacting with patients during clinical rotations. That being said, you must set yourself up for the best learning experience possible through your clinical placements. Whatever you do, do not settle for just any clinical experience to gain the hours necessary.
Clinical Placement Strategies
- Do your research: As mentioned above, before selecting a specific nurse practitioner program to attend, be sure to know what that program's strategy is regarding clinical placements. The more you know, the better of a decision you can make for yourself when choosing an NP school. Basically, in regards to clinical rotations, it comes down to this: Are you comfortable with finding your own clinical sites and preceptors, or, are you unable to secure your own preceptorships?
- Utilize your multi-lingual abilities: If you are able to speak several languages, you are likely to have more clinical rotation options. Ask the different NP schools you're interested in about opportunities they have for clinical placements with non-English speaking patients.
- Channel your clinical contacts: if you know several providers through volunteering and past work, and you know that they would be willing to teach you, then it will likely be easier to arrange clinical placements through these connections. In this case, feel free to apply to programs where you are responsible for arranging your own clinical placements.
- Apply to a program that arranges placement: If your clinical background does not specifically correlate with your nurse practitioner program, it may be in your best interest to apply to programs that arrange placements for you.
- Professional networking: If you're part of a national or statewide nurse practitioner organization, ask the organization's leaders about preceptorship opportunities they may have. If anything, attend more of the events in your organization and connect with NPs who have been practicing for a while. They may be able to serve as your preceptor.
- Social media support: Facebook and LinkedIn can be very handy for opportunities such as preceptorships. Start with sharing a status on your profile to see if any of the members of your immediate social circle would know about preceptorship possibilities. If not, expand to NP groups on Facebook or LinkedIn where other NPs are located. The more you are able to ask the question about clinical rotations, the more options you may have.
- Cold calls: While this is perhaps the most unpleasant option, cold calls are a strategy to consider when you may be out of other options. Consider visiting clinics that are local to you or your potential NP school, and schedule a meeting with an NP or clinic manager (if possible). When you meet, dress professionally and have your resume handy. Ask about any opportunities for preceptorship and demonstrate your willingness to work hard and learn. If anything, make a great impression so that in the future, you will not burn any bridges with a potential employer.
- Courtesy: While it is tough to secure clinical placements, it is important to be respectful to the contacts you reach out to, whether in-person or not, when it comes to asking about clinical opportunities. Chances are that you are not the first prospective NP to reach out and ask. Nevertheless, the more courteous and professional you are when you make a connection, the more well-received you will be.
Though securing clinical sites and preceptorships is definitely not easy, any of approaches above can help you in your pursuit. The most important thing to consider, though, is finding the best NP program for you. And part of that includes the consideration of what your potential NP program does to help with clinical rotations. Sometimes the added stress of finding all of your preceptors and clinical sites may not be worth attending that particular program. But, if you already have preceptors lined up, then your options are limitless. Best of luck in your endeavors!