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Listen to seasoned nurses swap stories about their own student clinical rotations and you might hear how they ran entire units on the night shift. Although they were shouldering a big responsibility, they were also developing clinical skills that helped them enter practice with a measure of confidence.
Most graduate nurses today don't have such opportunities. While packing their heads with theory and clinical information, they've been getting less hands-on experience-yet they're expected to hit the floor running.
A program my son participated in this summer aims to ease the difficult transition from student to nurse. A baccalaureate student, Stephen spent 12 weeks as a nurse extern at a large medical center in Philadelphia. Accompanying Shannon, an RN in the telemetry unit, Stephen learned about such procedures as phlebotomy, finger sticks, and endotracheal suctioning. Getting hands-on experience and good wages, he also attended education sessions on wound care, death and dying, and handling violent situations. Observing two surgical procedures, he got to witness OR nursing up close.
This program benefits all involved. Across the board, the hospital is getting positive feedback from students and staff. Externs might be more likely to work there after graduation; if they do, orientation should go more smoothly because they already know their way around. Shannon says mentoring doesn't add to her workload and having assistance with patient care is a big plus.
Stephen may have gained the most. Away from faculty eyes and the pressures of clinical rotations, he was free to ask a bright nurse questions without worrying about his grades. What he absorbed during those 12 weeks may influence his career more than a semester's worth of classes. The ability to tie concepts from his course work to real-life situations has given him confidence and enthusiasm about his future in nursing.
Look back on your school days and remember what a blessing helping hands can be. Then consider the impact you could have on a student's success as a new nurse. If developing an extern program at your facility sounds like a huge undertaking, a program with short time frames and just a few students and mentors could work. Think about joining a committee to work out a plan and seek funding.
The theory is good; now you can help put it into practice and make a substantial contribution to the future of nursing.
Cheryl L. Mee, RN,BC, CMSRN, MSN
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