By Christina Orlovsky, senior writer
The recent arrival of spring means one thing: Summer is on its
way. As students everywhere prepare for a season without school, externship,
employment and volunteer prospects abound, offering the ability to keep nursing
skills fresh while away from the classroom.
According to Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, author of Your First
Year as a Nurse, the summer offers nursing students of all levels a wealth
of opportunities to hone their skills, learn new ones and build the confidence
necessary to succeed in their nursing career.
“It is never too soon to start planning for your career,”
One common way nursing students prepare once school lets out
for summer is to apply for a hospital externship. These employment offerings,
which vary by hospital, are usually offered to students between their second amd
third year of nursing school, depending on their educational program, and are a
great way for students to get the feel of a hospital setting outside of nursing
“Externships are excellent opportunities for students to be in
a focused program with experienced nurses and to bring their clinical skills to
the next level,” Cardillo said.
She added that students should ideally begin looking for
externship opportunities in the late winter or early spring and should primarily
consider hospitals in which they might like to work after graduation.
“The opportunity to become familiar with the system and the
people is such a great advantage if they decide to work there later on. Although
there are no guarantees they’ll be hired, it certainly can’t hurt to have that
relationship,” Cardillo added. “Choose the facility that would be your first
choice, or one that is known for a particular service if you have an interest in
OR or psych, for example.”
Students who are still early into their education can also
pursue hospital employment over the summer in an aide or patient tech
role—again, ideally in a hospital they’d consider working in after graduation.
“Most hospitals love to have student nurses, even for summer,
because they’re hoping you’d want to work for them at a later date. Some
positions require a minimal amount of extra training, such as a CNA, but many
hospitals will give on-site training for tech positions,” Cardillo explained.
“This is a great thing to do because as an aide or a tech you get to perfect the
basic nursing skills you’ve learned in school but you also get to build your
confidence and build your autonomy. You develop more confidence and a sense of
self, which prepares you for the next level.”
Instead of seeking summer employment, other student nurses may
prefer the flexibility or opportunities afforded by a volunteer position with a
local organization or health clinic.
“Contact the American Heart Association or the American Red
Cross and do volunteer work for a summer. Or, call your local public health
nurse and offer to work at health fairs or provide blood pressure screenings,”
Cardillo suggested. “You will make great contacts, learn skills and get to try
out different specialties.”
While preparing for future employment, whether it’s through
externships, employment or volunteerism, Cardillo recommends attending career
fairs, networking and, perhaps most importantly, maintaining the contacts made
through summer experiences. Make your own personal business cards with your name
and contact information so future employers can easily reach you and keep in
touch periodically with the contacts you’ve made to keep them apprised of your
“The big value of networking is not just making the contact
but maintaining the relationship after it’s over. Keep the business cards of the
nurse recruiter, nurse manager and any nurses you’ve worked closely with,” she
“Plus, it’s great to send a note afterward to thank them, let
them know how much you enjoyed your experience and how much you learned,” she
added. “So few students take the time to do that and it’s something that’s so
appreciated and valued—it’s a way for a student to separate themselves from the
crowd and put themselves a step above the rest by showing that interest and
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