Inside the Marquette University Nursing Student Clinical Experience

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"Clinicals: Where nursing education meets real-world practice." - Nurses working with patients

Clinicals are a critical component of any nursing program, providing students’ first experiences in the real world of nursing. Since clinical experience is such an important piece of any nursing education, it’s important to understand what this entails before choosing a nursing program.

At Marquette University, students of our Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, begin clinicals during the first semester. This helps ensure they graduate armed with the knowledge, skills, confidence and clinical reasoning to make a difference as a nurse.

We talked to Direct Entry MSN program students and faculty to give you their perspectives on the Marquette University nursing student clinical experience.

What Are Nursing School Clinicals Like?

In clinicals, you get to not only see how nurses care for patients in the real world, but also experience the work of nurses firsthand. And one of the first things you’ll notice about the Direct Entry MSN program clinical experience is that you are among only a handful of students, allowing your clinical instructors to provide personalized attention — something Courtney was looking for in a nursing program.

I wanted small class numbers. That was really important to me. I wanted to feel confident going into my career with a lot of practice in the field.

Marquette nursing student with pediatric patient

Clinical experience is one reason Courtney chose to pursue an MSN degree rather than going the route of an accelerated BSN (ABSN) program. Typically, ABSN programs offer around 600–700 hours of clinical preparation inside actual healthcare organizations, in addition to simulation experiences that help lay the foundation for this real-world experience.

Students of Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program not only participate in at least 700 hours of clinical practice in a variety of settings, the quality of their experiences prepares them for a master’s level nursing education. Clinical settings might include:

  • Acute care
  • Intensive care
  • Medical-surgical
  • Obstetrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Mental health settings
  • Community health settings

In addition to giving you experience working with a variety of people and conditions, this also provides you opportunities to find your calling within the field of nursing.

“A lot of us don’t know exactly where we’re going or where we want to go in nursing,” said Shelby, who was hired as an ICU nurse just prior to her May 2019 graduation.

Marquette University - 2019 Graduate Shelby

You get to meet patients and you get to understand what patient population you best can fulfill as a nurse, and for me it’s ICU.


The First Day of Clinicals

Predictably, most students are both excited and nervous about starting clinicals during the first semester. However, don’t take this to mean you’ll walk into your first day of clinicals unprepared. Our curriculum was designed so that what you are learning in your coursework and skills and simulation labs applies to the clinicals you’re taking at the time.

“That first day you're getting your feet wet,” Courtney said. “Remembering to wash your hands, listening to breath sounds and helping learn how to make the bed with the patient in the bed.” Equally important as the tactical skills you learn on the job are the therapeutic communications skills and the ability to build professional relationships with patients and their families. As you progress through the program, you will take an increasingly hands-on role in the care of your patients, with clinical settings often following related simulation lab scenarios.

More Than Just Preparation for Clinicals

Working in healthcare, no two days are the same. While simulation labs help prepare you for your clinical rotations, these simulated experiences also ensure you get exposure to other important or high-risk clinical learning opportunities that you may not encounter during clinicals.

“We take the foundation we learn in simulation and build upon it in clinical with actual patients in the hospital setting,” said Tobin Tito, a Marquette University clinical nursing instructor and graduate of the Direct Entry MSN program. “This is where I guide students in assessing individuals, how they react to patients and how we would assess an actual human being.”

Breaking the Touch Barrier

Outside of clinicals, your nursing education focuses largely on the technical side of nursing — the theory behind the nursing process, knowledge of conditions and treatments, what to do in certain situations, etc. In clinicals, you get to experience the human side of care while putting into practice the knowledge and skills you’ve learned along the way.

“Clinical is also where you break the touch barrier with other people,” said Kassielle, another May 2019 graduate. “When I first started, I wasn't comfortable touching other people. In clinical, you have to. You have to take people’s blood pressure, listen to lung sounds, help them up and out of their wheelchair … It’s learning the power of therapeutic touch. I underestimated how powerful that is.”

It’s a sentiment many nursing students share. While everyone has some notion of the role nurses play in care, it takes experiencing it for yourself to understand the true impact nurses have on patients.

Marquette msn student

I can’t explain what it feels like to be in the clinical field and have your patient’s family come up and hug you and say, ‘Thank you so much for taking care of my mom and helping her get to where she’s at.’


Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll be caring for patients all on your own. You’ll have the guidance and support of your clinical instructors and the nurses on staff. As Courtney explained it, “We’re given patients who we take care of, we do the medications for, we chart on them, we assess them, and our professor cosigns our charts, gives meds with us, and makes sure we’re doing it all correctly.”

What It Means to Be a Marquette Nurse

Clinicals are also where students find out just what it means to wear the Marquette name on their scrubs.

“Marquette instills this value that you’re not just a nurse — you’re a Marquette-prepared nurse — and that you’re going to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Tobin. He also said that when he meets with nurse managers, “They are always excited to see Marquette students because they know these students are driven.”

They also know that not just anyone can get into Marquette University’s College of Nursing, and that the Direct Entry MSN students are well-prepared for a future in nursing. So it should come as no surprise that students of the program are often hired on after graduation — a fact not lost on students.

“They actually have the hiring personnel come and talk with all the students, and they’ll tell us what we have to do apply, what they’re looking for, etc.,” said Rachel, an August 2018 program graduate. “It’s opening a lot of doors for us.”

Are You a Marquette Nurse in the Making?

If you have the drive to succeed and meet the program requirements, Marquette’s second-degree Direct Entry MSN program in Pleasant Prairie could be right for you. Give us a call today to find out more about how you can graduate a MSN-prepared nurse in as few as 21 months.