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Student nurse intern programs

Student nurse intern programs

By: Tiffany L. Conlin, MSN, RN, CMSRN

A beacon of hope. 

Healthcare organizations throughout the nation are struggling with the prolonged pandemic and the worsening nursing shortage. An introspective look at how they’re currently recruiting students may help. Student nurse intern (also called extern) programs provide participants with the opportunity to experience clinical settings outside of their academic site and offer organizations the ability to recruit new staff.

Intern programs pair a student nurse with an RN preceptor for a 6- to 10-week paid experience, which typically occurs between the junior and senior year of nursing school. Interns receive additional clinical exposure, which is especially important now because many students have had limited or adjusted clinical experiences as a result of the pandemic. Such altered clinical scheduling has left many student nurses worried that they’ll be unprepared to accept their first RN position. Intern programs allow students to immerse themselves in the life and workflow of a nurse while transferring their academic knowledge into applied clinical practice thus physically and mentally preparing them for life after graduation. Students also gain insight into an organization’s culture, specialties, population, treatments, and procedures, which may help them determine whether it’s an appropriate fit post-program and post-graduation. As a result, interactions between interns and staff can either solidify the student’s choice in their nursing career or cast doubt.

To promote intern recruitment, organization leaders and staff play an integral part in creating a welcoming learning environment. To meet such an objective may require a change in workplace culture to better embrace the students. Leaders can drive this culture change by role modeling student interactions, setting department expectations, and helping staff see the big picture. Leaders also can help staff understand that each student signifies a future candidate, a potential colleague, and an extra team member. Departments can’t afford to view students as an afterthought, but instead must view each student is an opportunity.

During these difficult times, many organizations find themselves at maximum patient capacity with minimal staff. Each additional team member is imperative. Through student nurse intern programs, we can create positive, long-lasting, mutually beneficial experiences while preparing future nurses. During a time that feels endless, hosting student programs can bring additional help, an optimistic outlook, and the hope that each new student brings new life to the unit and organization.

These students remind all of us of the excitement we felt in our first nursing position and our eager anticipation to enter the profession. Their fresh perspective on nursing helps replenish and restore healthcare. They bring extra hands and extra heart into nursing and act as beacons of hope for the profession and the care we provide.

Tiffany L. Conlin, MSN, RN, CMSRN, is an American Nurse Journal editorial board member and an advanced clinical education specialist at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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