Prior to their senior year, The University of Tulsa’s bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) students have the opportunity to apply for unique and intensive summer externships in hospitals and other health care environments. This follows two years of progressive skills and clinical development, helping future nurses to see how the lessons of the classroom translate into practice.
In summer 2020, 12 BSN students undertook externships in emergency departments, medical-surgical units, intensive care units and several other areas.
“I am so pleased that our students applied for these focused learning experiences in particular areas of clinical interest,” remarked Bill Buron, the director of TU’s School of Nursing. “The ability to work closely with practicing nurse mentors results in an outstanding opportunity to help bridge our future graduates into much-needed specialty areas. Our program’s strong relationships with local hospitals provide a mutually beneficial opportunity for student growth and the ultimate development of highly skilled future registered nurses, many of whom choose to remain in our community and practice in the Tulsa area.”
From emergencies to newborns
One of this summer’s BSN externs is Victoria Crider. Originally from Owasso, Oklahoma, Crider landed an externship in the Saint Francis Health System’s Trauma Emergency Center (TEC). “I am so thankful for this opportunity,” Crider said; “in the TEC, you get to experience and learn a little bit of just about everything.” These experiences include starting an IV on a patient, performing basic patient care, helping nurses as they provide more intensive care and, if needed, administering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
Also taking part in an externship this summer is Rachael Shewey, who was raised and attended high school in Enid, Oklahoma, prior to moving to Tulsa to become a nurse. Shewey is externing in the mother and baby unit of the Peggy V. Helmerich Women’s Center at Hillcrest Medical Center. The focus of her work is on caring for mothers and their newborns. Her duties have ranged widely, including performing assessments on mothers and babies, taking vital signs, assisting with medication administration, helping with charting, giving babies their first bath and helping new mothers to begin breastfeeding. She has also been able to assist with drawing labs, checking blood glucose levels and other procedures.
From the classroom to the bedside and back
“I have already developed so much more knowledge than I had before this externship,” Crider said. “While I am learning how to perfect my technical skills, I am also gaining insight on how to handle situations as they arise, how to earn a patient’s trust and how to communicate with family members.” One of Crider’s preceptors at Saint Francis, Blake Schlosser, observed that “she is a hard worker and eager to learn new things. Victoria is highly engaged in her experience here in the TEC. We are glad she chose to extern with us.” Another preceptor, Kiarra Reed, added, “Victoria is a go-getter. She’s always eager to jump in and learn. She’s a great team player.”
The opportunity to practice skills learned in the classroom has been similarly vital for Shewey, who added that she is confident the skills she is developing – and repeatedly practicing – over the summer will support her during her final-year clinicals. “Memorizing material from textbooks and lectures is fine, but real-life examples are always so much easier to remember,” she noted. “That will help me with test-taking during my senior year, and it will prepare me to make the transition after graduation to becoming a practicing nurse. I now know that this is what working life is like. This is what being a nurse in a hospital means.”
Real patients, real care
During their externships, both Shewey and Crider have come face to face with critical care situations. Shewey recounted one episode that occurred during her first week on the job. While caring for a newborn, she noticed several “red flags” she had learned during her classwork at TU. Consulting with her nurse preceptor confirmed that the baby was, indeed, in respiratory distress. As a result, the infant was transferred to Hillcrest’s neonatal intensive care unit. “That was a great moment,” Shewey recalled. “The baby was well taken care of in a timely fashion, and I was able both to apply my current knowledge as well as expand on it by learning from my nurse preceptor and her experience.”
In Crider’s view, “it’s one thing for a professor to teach you what to do, and it another thing entirely to actually experience that situation in real life.” The truth of those words hit home on Crider’s third day as an extern in Saint Francis’ TEC. Caring for a critically ill individual throughout the morning elevated Crider’s nursing skills as well as her ability to “be there” for her patient’s family. “Helping this person in the last hours and minutes of their life taught me so much. That day was humbling for me, and I will always remember it.”
Take the plunge
For nursing students deciding between summer coursework or externships, Crider and Shewey strongly recommend taking the plunge and gaining the experience only an externship can provide. “You have more freedom than in clinicals, can generally practice more things and you don’t have the pressure of trying to earn a grade,” noted Crider. “An externship is one of the best things you can do to prepare yourself for the day you will be an RN.”
Shewey concurred: “An externship can do nothing but help. You’ll stay sharp on your skills, gain real-life experience and meet tons of cool nurses with good advice. It will also help you discover the area of nursing you’re most passionate about. And, it doesn’t hurt to get paid a little during the summer doing what you love!”
Learn more about how TU’s BSN program can give you the knowledge, training and opportunities you need to deliver effective, compassionate patient care.