Summer Internships for RN Students Are Great Experience

April 12th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

The spring semester is almost over and students across the country are looking forward to summer vacation. However, for many students, summer is a chance to get ahead. Many will take summer school classes, many will get a job and try to earn some extra money. What if you could combine both, maybe get some school credit, and definitely get a leg up on finding a nursing job after you finish school. You can.

It’s called an internship (or sometimes a nursing student externship) and they are available to nursing students all over the world. Many offer a small salary or an hourly wage, you get a chance to investigate different specialty areas of nursing that intrigue you, and some nursing schools even offer class credit for spending your summer in a hospital or clinic. Internships are tremendous opportunities for personal, academic, and professional growth.

The biggest bonus is a summer internship is almost like a job interview. If it’s an area you like, a specialty you want to pursue, you are there. You are meeting nurses who could be your future coworkers, you have a chance to impress a charge nurse or manager and you could secure your future before you even graduate.

Nursing internship programs are generally open to undergraduate nursing students who have completed at least one clinical rotation prior to the start of the program, and who attend school in an accredited nursing program. Internships provide you with the opportunity to work alongside an R.N. clinical coach or preceptor to experience nursing care in inpatient units, operating rooms, community clinics, and other healthcare facilities.

What you get

The nurse intern/extern programs are designed to increase the clinical confidence and competence of nursing students. Working under the direct supervision of a registered nurse from the unit, the intern can observe and participate in a variety of clinical experiences. Clinical work is usually supplemented with educational conferences. Students can choose assignments in a number of clinical and specialty areas. Opportunities are also usually provided for selected observational experiences to enhance the clinical experience.

Benefits obtained by participating in a summer internship/externship include:

  • Receive hands-on, practical nursing education.
  • Benefit from working with specialized, experienced healthcare professionals.
  • Opportunity for professional growth and autonomy, leading to active membership in a clinical team
  • Apply your clinical knowledge and gain new skills, often in state-of-the-art healthcare environments.
  • Gain an inside perspective on full-time employment opportunities.
  • Identify if the chosen specialty area is what you want for your future in nursing.

Personal Experience

Twelve years ago, this summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a program for nursing students in the operating room (OR) at one of my local hospitals. I was one of four area nursing students chosen to take part. The learning started even before I was accepted to the program.

You may have had jobs before, even a previous career, but being accepted into a nursing internship is your first nursing job application experience. You must have a nursing (student) resume and likely go through an interview with a nurse manager and/or educator. It’s a great chance to practice those interviewing skills. And there is the hospital paperwork.

If you land the position up next is your orientation. It is likely your first of many hospital orientations of your new career. And as a student it won’t be that different in some resects. Health and safety, policy and procedure, where to park, where to eat, where are the bathrooms and how to call in sick will all be on the agenda. If you are lucky enough to have a paid internship they will also cover payroll and paydays. All hospital orientations are kind of the same, all sort of boring but very important.

Then it begins. For me, in the OR, we had several weeks of classroom and lab learning before actually getting into an operating room with a preceptor. What I learned in those first weeks has served me well to this day. Most of the best stuff I know about being an OR scrub nurse I learned in that summer internship and it was priceless.

When the summer was over I knew most of my surgical instruments, how to set up a back table, how to assist a surgeon, how to identify and accept medications, how to handle specimen and how to be responsible to my surgical team and to my patient. Priceless.

That summer did cement that I wanted to be an OR nurse. But, I won’t pretend internships are all rosy. They are work. Preceptors volunteer to teach but never forget you are working under their license and no matter how much you want to learn and they want to educate at the end of the day they have patients to take care of and managers to report to and you are an extra responsibility. Some days don’t go well.

The other thing you can learn in an internship is that you don’t want to be a nurse in that hospital or that specialty. It is a good learning experience but it can make for a long summer. I had a friend who did a summer in a neurology ICU unit. He was very excited about it because he was fascinated with the neuro sciences.

What he wanted was to learn how to care for patients with severe neurological injuries or illness. He wanted to learn exam techniques and skill focused on this group of patients. What the nurses on the unit saw when he came through the door day one was well muscled young man. He spent most of the summer turning patients every two hours on a very large neuro ICU unit. To quote him, “I would been less physically exhausted if I had worked construction all summer.” He chose a career in emergency room nursing after that summer’s experience.

Other Opportunities

There are also internships available in research, administration, and insurance to name a few. Interns can be research assistants in healthcare laboratories or get a look behind-the-scenes at how managed health care works in a business setting. Nursing students can gain a new perspective on the multitude of roles that nurses play in health care administration, including case management, medical policy, and quality management, and you can acquire an in-depth understanding of the policies and practices of a healthcare. And don’t forget, this is an election year. Your local, state, and national candidates all have healthcare legislation that must be addressed and there are often internship positions available.

My final thought is this. The next year, when I was applying for an OR job I knew what to ask. I knew what I had seen that I liked and what I hadn’t. In every interview I asked about bullying policies because I had experienced it first hand. I was also able to brag that I already knew my instruments, knew how pass them and how to set up a room. I can guarantee you it put ahead of others applying for the same position.

So, while a summer at the beach might be fun and a vacation with the family hard to pass up, consider an internship. You can build your future on it.

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