Insufficient Clinical Placement Opportunities

As nursing education has moved out of hospital-based programs and into mainstream colleges and universities, integrating opportunities for clinical experience into coursework has become more difficult (Cronenwett, 2010). Nursing leaders continue to confront challenges associated with the separation of the academic and practice worlds in ensuring that nursing students develop the competencies required to enter the workforce and function effectively in health care settings (Cronenwett and Redman, 2003; Fagin, 1986). While efforts are being made to expand placements in the community and more care is being delivered in community settings, the bulk of clinical education for students still occurs in acute care settings.

The required number of clinical hours varies widely from one program to another, and most state boards of nursing do not specify a minimum number of clinical hours in prelicensure programs (NCSBN, 2008). It is likely, moreover, that many of the clinical hours fail to result in productive learning. Students spend much of their clinical time performing routine care tasks repeatedly, which may not contribute significantly to increased learning. Faculty report spending most of their time supervising students in hands-on procedures, leaving little time focused on fostering the development of clinical reasoning skills (McNelis and Ironside, 2009).9

Some advances in clinical education have been made through strong academic–service partnerships. An example of such partnerships in community settings is nurse-managed health centers (discussed in Chapter 3), which serve a dual role as safety net practices and clinical education sites. Another, commonly used model is having skilled and experienced practitioners in the field oversee student clinical experiences. According to a recent integrative review, using these skilled practitioners, called preceptors, in a clinical setting is at least as effective as traditional approaches while conserving scarce faculty resources (Udlis, 2006). A variety of other clinical partnerships have been designed to increase capacity in the face of nursing faculty shortages (Baxter, 2007; DeLunas and Rooda, 2009; Kowalski et al., 2007; Kreulen et al., 2008; Kruger et al., 2010).

In addition to academic–service partnerships and preceptor models, the use of high-fidelity simulation offers a potential solution to the problem of limited opportunities for clinical experience, with early studies suggesting the effectiveness of this approach (Harder, 2010). The NLN, for example, has established an online community called the Simulation Innovation Resource Center, where nurse faculty can learn how to “design, implement, and evaluate the use of simulation” in


This paragraph, and the three that follow, were adapted from a paper commissioned by the committee on “Transforming Pre-Licensure Nursing Education: Preparing the New Nurse to Meet Emerging Health Care Needs,” prepared by Christine A. Tanner, Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing (see Appendix I on CD-ROM).

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