Many of the ideas here have focused on active teaching techniques in the classroom. Here is an activity for nursing students in clinical!

Clinical Activity for Nursing Students to Improve Critical Thinking

I am a massive fan of clinical.  I genuinely enjoy working with students at the bedside and making connections between theory and practice.  However, I have had occasions where my day went according to plan.  My students had stable patients who got better without complications and moved towards discharge.  When patients are stable, what can you do to add clinical judgment into the day?

Using simple clinical decision cards as a clinical activity

These cards are a done-for-you activity!  Clinical Decision Cards are a simple printable download that includes various clinical situations where things go wrong.  Once printed, students draw a card with some abnormal assessment data.  Maybe their patient develops a change in their level of consciousness or abnormal bleeding, or a critical lab value pops up.  There are 24 different critical patient assessment findings possible.

Here is how to implement this activity.

The steps for using the clinical decision cards are in this video.  I’m new to making videos, so be gentle with me. 😀

First, download the clinical decision card attachment.  Print out the cards (if you want to use the cards long-term, I would suggest that you laminate them).  Have your students prepare for a typical patient care day.  They should complete assessments, give medications, and have documented.  Then, throw them a curveball.  Have them draw a clinical decision card.

Once they have their abnormal assessment finding, they should create a care plan based on this data.  As an instructor, you can also download the care planning template to give students a structure to make their care plans.  The template uses assessment, diagnosis, planning, intervention, and evaluation, but any clinical paperwork will work.  Nursing students should be using the abnormal assessment finding as their priority problem (because these cards are typically they are bad scenarios).  Students may have to do some creative thinking – e.g., if the card indicates that they developed new abdominal pain, the student may have to come up with a probable cause for that on their own.  Maybe they decide it is an ileus and then build their care plan from that idea.

Where does this activity work best?

This activity was designed for rotations in acute care.  But instructors can use it in outpatient settings or home health as well.

Ideas for Variation

You could certainly use these cards in a theory class as well!  As a quick-thinking exercise, divide the students into groups and assign them a disease process.  For example, if you cover respiratory content, separate the groups into pneumonia, tracheostomy, cystic fibrosis, and COPD.  Then, have students choose a card and rapidly decide their priority assessments and interventions based on the abnormal assessment finding.  You could play this for multiple rounds or have them develop a detailed care plan around one card.

A simple and effective activity to build critical thinking skills for nursing students in clinical

Being at the bedside with students is one of my favorite teaching days. Using simple clinical decision cards can add a layer of critical thinking and is a great activity for nursing students in clinical.

  1. Students prepare for a typical patient care day. 
  2. Have them choose a clinical decision card.
  3. Once they have their abnormal assessment finding, they should create a care plan based on this finding. 
  4. This activity was designed for rotations in acute care but can be used in theory class.
Active learning techniques can include activities for nursing students in clinical as well.

Did you know we have a community?

Head over to the ACTIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES FOR NURSE EDUCATORS Facebook group for more ideas and inspiration!

Martha Johnson is the charge nurse over at BreakoutRN

Martha Johnson MSN, RN, CEN

Charge nurse over at BreakoutRN with a focus on helping other nursing educators transition from lecture to active learning.  She believes it does not have to be hard or overwhelming, just take it one activity at a time 💜

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