Nursing Externships and Service Learning
Nursing externships increase students' competence and clinical competency. Students work under the direct supervision of a registered nurse, observing and participating in a variety of clinical experiences, often in the clinical specialty of the student's choice. Externships typically take place over the summer, usually between junior and senior year in BSN programs, unrelated to the student's nursing program, and at a facility of the student's choice.
Externships provide several advantages. Most run on 12-hour shifts, offer individualized orientation programs and ongoing educational offerings, and allow students to experience the nursing specialty they hope to practice. Externships pay competitive salaries, providing students with income to use for college costs, save for the future, or use for fun money, and they create a comfort zone that minimizes the reality shock that often occurs when going from student to nurse. Most importantly, externships are career builders. Students frequently obtain preferred employment at their place of externship. Those who choose to work elsewhere have the advantage of enhanced experience, increasing their chances of getting the job they want.
Externships are very competitive. They require that students have completed most of their nursing courses with a strong GPA. Students must submit an application, as well as an essay, resume, transcript, and letters of reference from two or three of their nursing faculty. If you're interested in an externship, start looking well before you plan to begin. Contact your hospitals of interest and ask what they have to offer. Talk to your instructors, as they often know what externships are available, and get your application packet ready by early spring of your junior year.
Service learning unites community service with learning objectives to create an activity that will change both the recipient and the provider of the service. Some nursing programs mandate that nursing students complete 10 to 20 hours of service learning each year. These hours are in addition to your clinical practicum hours, but still constitute part of your coursework because the service activities connect to course objectives. Students usually write journals or logs describing their experiences, goal attainment, and feelings, and they share this information with the class.
While service learning may just seem like busy work or forced volunteering, it has considerable advantages. The most important two are gaining resume experience and enriching your life. Experiences include working in soup kitchens, day care centers, prisons, and long-term care. Some students work with established organizations like the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity, while others save their hours to work during spring break in a needy country or part of the United States. No matter where you serve, you learn something related to nursing, such as assessing for health risk factors or learning how to care for profoundly disabled children.
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