Internships and Practicums

Nursing internships and nursing practicums give students valuable hands-on experience working with patients and other healthcare professionals. This job training can help nurses earn licensure and secure jobs in the field. While nursing internships and practicums share many similarities, there are several notable differences between the two. Practicums have a more rigid structure, involve a higher level of supervision, and specifically fulfill learning requirements for graduation. Internships, while often used to earn college credits, typically have a looser structure and require a greater amount of individual responsibility on the part of the student.

Internships typically take place over a period of months, requiring part-time or full-time hours, while practicums may only require a few hours each week. Because of the greater time commitment, internships may be paid, while practicums, as a direct part of the course, are not. Finally, a practicum targets precise learning goals and translates specific classroom lessons into a practical environment. Internships, on the other hand, each include a different assortment of lessons and experiences.

Most nursing programs require students to complete either an internship or practicum before graduation. These experiences allow students to observe and participate in a professional environment. Data shows their effectiveness. A 2012 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that around 60% of graduates who completed a paid internship during their college years had received at least one job offer. More than 70% of respondents surveyed in a Stanford University study stated that their college practicum experience influences their day-to-day work in a current or former occupation.

What to Expect From Your Nursing Internship or Practicum

What Will I Do for My Nursing Internship or Practicum?

The most important feature of a nursing internship is direct patient care. Students both observe and participate in this care under the direct supervision of a mentor. Typically, these supervisors work as nurses in the location where the internship takes place. Students may help create treatment plans, maintain treatment logs, and assist with laboratory work. This direct patient care allows students to integrate classroom theory and professional practice.

Nursing student internships may involve group learning or independent learning. Students in the same on-site nursing program often work in a supervised cohort, while students in an online program usually work alone under their mentor’s supervision.

In Which Type of Setting Will I Work?

Nursing student internships and practicums take place in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare offices. Many schools maintain partnerships with nearby healthcare facilities to provide practicum experiences for nursing students. Online students typically complete their field experience requirements at an approved third-party location in their neighborhood. Students interested in a specialized area of nursing, such as in emergency, pediatrics, or mental health, may request a practicum site that matches their goals. All internship and practicum sites must undergo a vetting process and receive approval from program instructors.

How Long Will My Internship or Practicum Last?

The exact length of nursing student internships and practicums can vary based on a number of factors. Each internship requires a different number of hours over a different period of time. Typically, internships last two or three months. However, some internships for upper-level students last a year or longer.

Instead of a set duration of time, practicums usually require a certain number of on-site hours. These requirements typically increase as students enroll in more advanced programs. Standard RN-to-BSN programs require 150 clinical hours, while master’s programs require around 680 clinical hours. Doctoral programs may require up to 1,000 hours, divided into four separate courses.

While all nursing programs include similar requirements, students should determine precise practicum length and research prospective nursing internships in their area.

Will I Get Paid for My Nursing Internship or Practicum?

Practicums are typically offered as part of an academic course through a school and its partners. As such, they generally do not offer any compensation. Nursing internships, on the other hand, may or may not pay students. Each individual internship determines what payment, if any, interns can receive.

Will I Get Academic Credit for My Internship or Practicum?

Some industries offer internships to individuals who are not seeking college credit, including recent graduates and individuals looking to change careers. In healthcare, however, internships and practicums almost exclusively hire current students pursuing nursing degrees. By nature, practicums grant students college credit. Before accepting an internship, however, students should check with their school to make sure the internship qualifies for academic credit. Many schools require students to complete additional assignments and projects related to their field experience. Nursing student internships and practicums provide a varying amount of academic credit based on length, school approval, and time commitment.

How Will My Nursing Internship or Practicum Help Me?

Practicum objectives for nursing students very from one school to the next. Some RN-to BSN programs require each student to work with their mentor and faculty advisors to create their own set of goals and objectives. Generally, practicum objectives will include a focus on successfully applying classroom theory and learning to active, clinical patient care, using critical thinking in a healthcare environment, and communicating and collaborating effectively with others, including healthcare teams, individuals, and families.

Students may gain professional skills in additional areas, depending on the specialized nature of their program. For example, some practicums may be structured with a focus on leadership, which would include learning objectives in areas such as assignment delegation and time management. One of the most important features of completing a nursing practicum, regardless of the specific objectives, is the confidence students develop in their own knowledge and abilities, which allows them to enter the BSN workforce feeling prepared.

Where to Find Nursing Internships

While most programs offer assistance locating and securing nursing internships for college students, there are several other avenues available as well. Students can find field experiences through opportunities like those listed below.

  • Your School’s Career Center: Career center staff help students with professional development, resumes, and interview preparation. They may share relevant information on local healthcare facilities and opportunities for college students.
  • Job Fairs: Job fairs give students the opportunity to meet face-to-face with local healthcare facility representatives and ask questions about internships. Colleges and third-party organizations often host job fairs.
  • Recruiting Events: Although similar to job fairs, recruiting events feature a smaller number of employers seeking candidates to fill specific job openings. Healthcare facilities may host recruiting events for summer nursing internships and other positions.
  • Alumni Network: Many university alumni networks offer member benefits, such as exclusive job postings and networking events. While an alumni network may not lead directly to a nursing internship, sometimes just knowing the right person can make a huge difference.
  • Job Boards and Internship Databases: Job boards and internship databases allow healthcare facilities to easily locate potential interns and employees. Students can search extensive listings for the nursing internship that is right for them.

Nursing Internship Opportunities

  • LinkedIn: The most popular networking site for professionals, LinkedIn maintains a database of job postings, including nursing internships from around the country.
  • Internships.com: With more than 5,000 internship postings available at any given time, Internships.com is the web’s largest hub for internship opportunities in all fields and academic disciplines.
  • Nurse.com: While Nurse.com focuses primarily on full-time nursing employment, students can use the site to find healthcare facilities in their area. These facilities may have internships available.
  • Work the World: Nursing internships are not just limited to the U.S. Work the World features internship opportunities in low-resource areas across the globe. These opportunities offer personal and professional development from a global health perspective.
  • WayUp: Formerly InternMatch.com, WayUp connects college students with paid internship opportunities, part-time jobs, and entry-level employment.
  • Indeed.com: Known as the world’s most popular job site, Indeed.com allows employers to post listings for paid and unpaid internships.

Resources

  • Nurse.com Courses: In addition to job postings, Nurse.com offers a wide range of online courses. Nursing interns can use these classes to supplement their education and clinical practice.
  • Glassdoor: Glassdoor.com provides a wealth of resources for job seekers and college students planning their careers. Resources include examples of interview questions, information about companies, and salary data.
  • Nurse.org Career Guides: Nursing students and working professionals alike can benefit from the career guides and information available at Nurse.org.