Interview with Dr. Pamela B. Simmons, PhD, FNP-BC on Clinical Placements at Northwestern State University

About Dr. Pamela B. Simmons, PhD, FNP-BC: Dr. Simmons is the Senior Director of the Northwestern State University (NSU) College of Nursing. She worked on several adult medical-surgical nursing units, in peritoneal and hemodialysis, and in critical care, before moving into staff development. Dr. Simmons served as a chief nursing officer at a large academic health sciences center for several years before returning to nursing education. She earned her baccalaureate and master’s nursing degrees from Northwestern State University in 1979 and 1986, respectively, and subsequently earned her PhD from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas in 1995.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide a brief overview of how MSN students’ clinical placements are arranged at Northwestern State University of Louisiana College of Nursing?

[Dr. Simmons] Ensuring nursing students have good clinical experiences is very important to the NSU faculty. Students can elect to pursue a role concentration in education, administration, or nurse practitioner. Family, Women’s Health, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, and Pediatric Primary Care are the specializations available for the nurse practitioner MSN track.

NSU’s nurse practitioner graduate students have a degree of flexibility and control over their selection of clinical sites. With this flexibility also comes a high degree of responsibility. Students complete their clinical hours over several clinical courses–the sequence for these clinical courses begins every Fall semester. In order to be included in this sequence, students must submit their clinical application and a letter of intent before June 1st of the preceding Summer semester. Students are then notified of their clinical acceptance by the end of July. Only after they have been accepted into clinicals should students then seek and secure a clinical placement site and preceptor.

Generally, students identify the clinical preceptor with whom they would like to work and seek the approval of the College of Nursing for their selection. Faculty do evaluate the practice settings to make sure they are sufficient to meet the objectives of the course in which the student is enrolled. In addition, students work with faculty at two community clinics that cater to underserved populations. In that way, students are mentored by faculty who serve as role models during their education.

MSN students are responsible for obtaining appropriate clinical sites in which to practice during the program. This will usually involve clinical experiences at multiple facilities with multiple preceptors to ensure the student gets exposure to a variety of patient populations. Faculty vet the sites and the preceptors to make sure they are qualified. Preceptors that have been used previously by students in the program are often invited to serve as a preceptor for future students. In this way, faculty are able to assist students who may be having some difficulty finding an appropriate preceptor. Students who are accepted into one of the nurse practitioner concentrations will meet with the director of the nursing graduate programs to review the process, go over all paperwork, and become familiar with site/preceptor requirements and deadlines. All students have faculty assigned to assist them throughout the program and make site visits, in addition to the mentoring of the onsite preceptor.

[] What processes and procedures must MSN students typically complete in order to secure clinical placements that align with their academic interests and career goals?

[Dr. Simmons] Most students find their preceptor first–often someone they’ve worked with as a registered nurse. In fact, many say they were encouraged to return to school by their clinic’s MD or NP. Other times, students share with other students the names of preceptors that have worked out well. NSU provides all new graduate students preceptor packets that must be completed prior to starting their clinical placements.

[] When students need to complete their placements in multiple settings–for example, rotations in pediatrics, women’s health, acute care, and/or geriatrics–how does Northwestern State University of Louisiana College of Nursing help them arrange these multiple placements and preceptors?

[Dr. Simmons] Most students come with ideas of whom they would like to work with during their precepted experiences. Of course, faculty help guide and direct students to known preceptors that have worked with them in the past. And peer to peer recommendations among the students also occurs. And faculty are involved with the preceptors and students throughout the entire process.

[] What challenges do students encounter when arranging their clinical placements, and how does Northwestern State University of Louisiana College of Nursing’s clinical placement coordinators help them address these challenges?

[Dr. Simmons] Most challenges relate to students simply not knowing anyone who is practicing in the field. So faculty will put them in contact with preceptors who have been available to students in previous cohorts. Networking is so important in developing potential preceptors. Faculty also follow up with students who have gone through the program once they have been practicing for a few years. These have been some of our best and most faithful preceptors. They understand the rigor of the program and the requirements and hold the students to them.

[] What advice do you have for students regarding putting their best foot forward during clinical placement interviews?

[Dr. Simmons] Be prepared and conscientious in all that you do, would be my first bit of advice. Be a person of integrity. Be respectful. Don’t be late! You are a guest in the facility and you have to remember, it is a business. The practitioners are there to assist you but they also have a very busy job to do. Don’t waste their time. Handle yourself professionally and minimize disruptions. And do not forget the rules of confidentiality…what happens in clinical stays in clinical!

[] Clinical placements are an opportunity for students to explore their career interests while also building important advanced nursing skills. What advice do you have for students regarding how they can make the most out of their clinical placements?

[Dr. Simmons] My best advice to any student is to take advantage of every learning opportunity that comes their way. As a student, you have permission to ask questions, to be curious, so ask away! But be prepared as well. Don’t make the staff do the preparatory work that you need to do. Use your resources, i.e., online sites, books, journals and even your peers to seek out new information and insight. And remember, most nursing communities are very small (even in the bigger cities), so do your best. Perform as well as you can, at all times. Otherwise, your reputation may precede you and you may find it difficult to find a job once you graduate. Finally, I would say relax and enjoy the clinical experiences. Every practitioner, no matter the discipline, has been a student before, so most understand where you are coming from and are generally willing to help you. A successful student experience can lead to a potential job or at least consideration for an interview. So don’t waste the opportunity.

Thank you Dr. Simmons for your insight into the clinical placement process at Northwestern State University!

About the Author: Kaitlin Louie is the Managing Editor of, and creates informational content that aims to assist students in making informed decisions about graduate programs. She earned her BA & MA in English from Stanford University.