Summary This phenomenological study explores and describes the ‘lived’ experiences of general student nurses on their first clinical placement in an Irish School of Nursing. The research question: ‘What are the experiences of general student nurses on their first clinical placement?’ provided the focus for the study. In-depth interviews were conducted with nine female student nurses and one male student nurse. Data from the interviews were collected, recorded and analysed using Coliazzi’s (1978) framework (Coliazzi, P., 1978 . Psychological research as the phenomenologist views it. In: Valle, R.S., King, M. (Eds.), Existential Phenomenological Alternatives for Psychology, Oxford University Press, New York). Five core themes emerged: self-awareness, confidence, anxiety, facilitation and professional issues. The findings revealed that the standard of preparation for the placement was viewed positively though some aspects of preparation require a critical shift in thinking towards meeting the students’ needs in future curriculum planning. The conclusions of the study indicate that the presence of mutual respect and regard for others had a positive impact on the students’ self-esteem. The acquisition of knowledge led to an increase in confidence levels that subsequently reduced anxiety. This enhanced the learning process that was dependant upon the collaborative support and facilitation in the clinical learning environment. The findings prepare the way for further research that could continue to develop and maximise the educational value and clinical experience for undergraduate nursing students.