Why a Nursing Externship Is Important for Gaining Clinical Experience

Why a Nursing Externship Is Important for Gaining Clinical Experience

14 October 2019 By Kate

Nurse and Nursing Student with Patient during Nursing Externship

Working as a nurse requires a lot of medical knowledge about the body and how it functions. However, to put that knowledge into practice, a nurse needs to gain clinical experience through working with patients. According to a 2009 study, nurses spend more time with patients than doctors and other health care professionals. Their performance on the job is also directly correlated with the outcome and safety of a patient.

While this might not be surprising, it’s the reason gaining actual clinical experience working with patients is so important for nurses. From dealing with on the job interruptions to communicating during patient handoffs to developing situational awareness, a nursing externship is the best way to gain clinical experience while in nursing school.

What Do Nursing Externs Do?

If you’re wondering what you might do as a nursing extern, the answer is: it depends. Ultimately, state laws, the hospital where you work, the nurse you end up working with, and whether or not the facility specializes in a certain area of health care will all factor into your externship experience. If you plan to complete your nursing externship in Oregon, note that as of July 1, 2014, the state requires you to meet standardized administrative requirements first.

One of the main contributing factors behind any professional feeling confident in their work is mastery experiences. While nursing externs cannot legally perform the same job duties as a registered nurse, familiarity gained from observation makes up for instances where hands-on experience was not possible.

That said, some of the tasks you may perform as a nursing extern include the following:

  • Assisting patients with admissions
  • Making rounds and checking on patients
  • Performing basic patient care procedures, such as checking vitals
  • Executing routine procedures, such as drawing blood
  • Assisting experienced nurses with advanced procedures that require licensing in that specific state
  • Collecting, labeling and transporting biological specimen for testing

Improve the Transition Process

Externships also help nurses to bridge the gap between classroom knowledge and real-world experience. According to a 2016 study on externships, new nurses often struggled with transitioning from graduate to registered nurse. Tough transitioning points included not just performing the routine functions of a nurse, but dealing with unfamiliar technology and irregular shift hours. 

This led to feelings of uncertainty and insecurities about the ability to perform, which in turn, contributes to up to 69% of nurses quitting within the first year. The study notes that for students who completed externships, the transition from the classroom to the hospital proved much less stressful. They also assumed their new roles as registered nurses with a greater sense of confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Get Clinical Experience in Nursing

In most instances, you will play the role of a nursing assistant while shadowing a more experienced nurse. This provides the perfect opportunity for you to observe the ideal way of executing each task. On your externship, make sure to observe the following:

  • Workflow
  • Interactions with patients
  • How they handle difficult situations
  • Ways to be efficient

Your observations may differ from what you learned in a classroom setting as nurses tend to make changes based on certain types of patients. Finally, and most importantly, use this as an opportunity to ask questions and get a better idea of how the hospital environment functions as a unit.

Improve Your Bedside Manner

While performing these tasks as an extern, you will also learn invaluable interpersonal and communication skills. Note that some of the most brilliant doctors in America also have some of the worst patient ratings. The same is true of nurses and other health care professionals. Book smarts is only part of the job. 

Health professionals must also know how to navigate some of the most intense and precarious situations, with patients and family members who may be stressed and suffering from intense pain. The more comfortable patients feel with a health professional, and the better that professional is at neutralizing negative emotions, the better the treatment experience may be for the patient.

Expand Your Connections

An externship provides one of the first real opportunities for an upcoming nurse to show their face as a professional in the health care community. By performing your job to the best of your ability, you may leave a lasting impression on other members of staff, who may recommend you for a competitive job position after you graduate. 

Even when there are no vacancies, the staff may know other colleagues looking for a bright and talented nurse to employ somewhere else, which could open up a wealth of opportunities for you. When doctors leave hospitals to build their own private practice, they often take some of the current staff members with them. One of those staff members could be you.

Improve Your Job Marketability

As a direct result of these benefits, adding a completed nursing externship to a resume is a privilege. It makes you a more attractive candidate for some of the highest-paying positions. These may not have otherwise been available to you as a new graduate. Note that due in part to the shortage of nurses in America, the median annual salary is $71,730. 

While your nursing externship is an important part of your professional journey, it all begins with the knowledge you gain in the classroom. Contact us today for information on how to enroll as a student at Pioneer Pacific College.  

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