Background: In the latter half of the 20th century, registered nurse education moved to university degree level. As a result, there has been a reduction in access for students to clinical experience. In numerous studies, nursing graduates have reported that they do not feel prepared for practice. The importance of maximising every learning opportunity during nursing school is paramount. At Edith Cowan University, a program was initiated that allows students to become enrolled nurses at the midway point of their degree to enable them to work and therefore gain experience in the clinical practice setting during their education. This study investigated the effect of the program on the nursing students' perception of their clinical abilities and explored their ability to link theory to practice. Methods: The research design for this study was a quasi-experimental, prospective observational cohort study. The study included 39 second-year nursing students not enrolled in the program (Group 1), 45 second-year nursing students enrolled in the program (Group 2), and 28 third-year nursing students who completed the program and are working as enrolled nurses (Group 3). Participants were asked to complete a Five Dimension of Nursing Scale questionnaire. Results: The quantitative analyses showed that students in Group 1 had statistically significant higher pre-questionnaire perceived abilities across all domains, except in two dimensions when compared to Group 2. The post-questionnaire analysis showed that Group 1 had statistically significant lower perceived abilities in four of the five dimensions compared to Group 2. Group 1 also had significantly lower abilities in all dimensions compared to Group 3. Group 3 had a significantly higher perception of their clinical abilities compared to Group 2. Conclusion: This study highlights the value of meaningful employment for undergraduate nursing students by providing opportunities to increase confidence in clinical abilities. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd.