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The Importance of Nursing Internships


Nursing internships offer aspiring nurses hands-on clinical experience with patient care, while fostering professionalism, creating networking opportunities, and developing clinical knowledge. First, future nurses need the foundational education that comes from undergraduate nursing programs. Academic programs provide numerous courses and labs that cover topics such as HIPAA regulations and clinical and scientific techniques. Beyond the classroom, nursing internships can bring that learning to life and provide unique preparation. To qualify for a nursing internship program, you must first apply and meet certain requirements, such as being actively enrolled in a nursing program. Internships are usually paid (although some may be unpaid) and may have a minimum number of hours the intern is required to work per week. Internships allow nursing students to acquire clinical knowledge under the supervision of experienced nursing professionals, working alongside them as they care for and interact with patients.

One-on-one clinical experiences

Nurse interns are paired with a preceptor who shares personal and professional knowledge. This partnership will create learning experiences with each clinical encounter you have. As learning opportunities arise, preceptors will try to get you involved in some way or allow you to observe. An internship helps familiarize a student nurse with day-to-day aspects of clinical settings.

"It also helps them to see the politics of healthcare, how processes like policies and procedures are managed -- small things that you won't necessarily get in a book," said Ottamissiah "Missy" Moore, BS, RN, WCC, DWC, CHPN, CAEd, a nurse educator, preceptor, and mentor based in Washington, D.C.

Confidence in the clinical setting

[caption id="attachment_105988" align="alignright" width="217"] Ottamissiah Moore, RN[/caption] Internships give you the opportunity to practice and perfect clinical skills. As you learn and repeat each skill, you can gain proficiency while expanding your knowledge and enhancing your confidence. For example, you may have just learned how to use an infusion pump. Your preceptor may have you stay on that unit until you've mastered that task. Nurse preceptors may even allow you to perform certain procedures that you've practiced only in the skills lab. Moore, who has 36 years of nursing experience and has worked as a preceptor and mentor for student nurses for 15 years, added that internships also provide experience in accountability and responsibility. "When you're in an internship, you're actually providing care and management of patients," she said. "You have someone who has oversight of you, but it's a shift in the accountability and responsibility of what you need to do. As a student, you're learning. But as an intern, you're still learning, but you're also getting paid to care for the patient."

Network and interprofessional collaboration

During a nursing internship, you'll learn to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team. You'll be able to give reports, join huddles, and work alongside healthcare professionals like physicians and occupational therapists. Working with a broader healthcare team will provide you with a greater understanding of each profession's roles and responsibilities. This type of teamwork can also enhance your own skill set -- both clinical skills and soft skills. A study on interprofessional collaboration with nurse educators and medical interns from different disciplines showed more clinical knowledge and improved communication from the interns based on their collaboration with nursing staff. The potential to grow your skill and improve your communication comes from these types of relationships. Networking is another benefit of an internship. You can connect with other interns and experienced nurse colleagues. Through the experience, you can build a network of colleagues from different specialties or disciplines, aiding your professional growth and increasing your knowledge and versatility as a nurse.

A potential path to your first nursing job

An internship not only familiarizes you with the care environment but also helps you home in on what specialties and settings interest you. For instance, you may work on a medical-surgical unit and realize this is the specialty you want to pursue. This will give you a glimpse of different care settings to help guide where you truly want to be. Internships also present opportunities to land employment at the facility or organization where you're interning. A Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing study on hiring nurse interns showed that 86% of the interns were hired at the participating hospital after the program ended. During your experience, your managers, preceptor, and colleagues will notice your skills, perseverance, time management, and more. Their recognition of your hard work and commitment may lead them to ask you to return after you graduate.

Finding an internship

Locating and applying to a nursing internship may feel like a daunting task. However, you have many resources that can aid your search for the right experience. Starting with the career center at your school could be your first step. Each college usually has career counselors who can either help you locate internships or guide you to healthcare organizations who host these programs. Career centers may also offer services during the application process, such as interview preparation or resume writing assistance. Other channels that can help you locate nursing internships include job or career fairs or online job boards. For example, the American Nurses Association offers an online job board that lists internship opportunities. In addition, Moore suggested looking into medical societies and healthcare organizations, such as the Alzheimer's Association, that may offer internship programs specifically for nursing students. But she also advised thinking innovatively to find internship opportunities you possibly haven't considered. Nurses can work in various settings other than hospitals or health clinics. Moore suggested reaching out to different types of organizations, including correctional facilities or factories, to explore interesting options.

"You can see what it's like to be a nurse in a jail or see what it's like to be an occupational nurse at a factory," she said. "Just realize, some are paid internships. Some aren't. But if you'd like to try something different, you have to reach out."

How to stand out

As you prepare internship applications and practice interview skills, focus on promoting your strengths and accomplishments to stand out. Here a few aspects you can start with:

  • Highlight your work ethic and abilities as a student -- especially during clinicals. Did you inquire if colleagues needed extra assistance during challenging scenarios? Did you ask if you could observe during special procedures or patient care? These attributes show that you go above and beyond what's expected of you as a student nurse. A recommendation from a clinical instructor may be required with an internship application, so make sure your faculty and preceptor are familiar with you and what you're capable of.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses in the clinical setting. Be ready to explain the details of your clinical experiences and to answer questions about how your patient care has benefited others or how you overcame difficult situations.
  • Elaborate on your ability to work with a team. Teamwork is crucial in healthcare, so when you're being interviewed, you should describe your clinical experiences as a member of the healthcare team.
  • Become more involved in your school's organizations. Participate in community service activities, school improvement committees, school program initiatives, or volunteer abroad. These types of projects will show professional commitment and versatility.

Moore added that joining an association like the National Student Nurses' Association may also be helpful. You'll have an opportunity to connect and collaborate with other nursing students -- especially ones who are currently in or have already completed an internship. These organizations allow you to meet people who share similar goals or are on a similar path as you, according to Moore. Nursing internships test your clinical skills outside of a structured classroom setting. These programs support unique clinical experiences, new professional relationships, and knowledge you'll carry into your first nursing role. Discover more about interprofessional collaboration through these courses: The Impact of Interprofessional Education (1 contact hour) Interprofessional (IP) education aims to improve collaborative practice in which healthcare decisions are made as a cohesive group, including the patient. Working as an Interprofessional Team (1 contact hour) The goal of this course is to enhance the knowledge and ability of nurses, health educators, dietitians, and radiology technologists in the acute care setting to work as cohesive members of the interprofessional team.