Internships and Practicums

As job markets become more competitive and careers require greater skill, many schools utilize experiential learning opportunities as a way to help students distinguish themselves to employers. Nursing practicums and internships offer aspiring nurses the chance to gain practical experience in a variety of professional settings while simultaneously building career connections. Outside of networking opportunities, nursing internships set a general precedent for success. The National Association of Colleges and Employers cites several studies that demonstrate a positive correlation between internships and career opportunities for college graduates. Both online and campus students regularly complete nursing internships and practicums, which take place in a variety of professional healthcare settings.

Nursing internship duties vary widely, but students can generally expect to perform lower-level tasks related to patient care. Practicum students may perform tasks in a more supplementary role, such as taking vital signs and assisting registered nurses.

Internships and practicums offer different experiences. A nursing practicum typically features more observation than practice, enabling students to shadow real employees and draw connections between course learning and professional competencies. Practicum students may also perform lower-level tasks, such as recording data or assisting other employees. Participants often must reflect on their practicum observations, and some practicums may even include class sessions for further reflection and discussion.

Nursing internships offer participants a larger role in operations, more closely mimicking the duties of a real nursing job. Interns often work independently and report directly to a supervisor. These students also communicate with faculty supervisors to reflect on their learning, focusing heavily on their professional growth. Note that some schools may use the terms differently, and that a practicum does not always mean less work or less responsibility.

What to Expect From Your Nursing Internship or Practicum

What Will I Do for My Nursing Internship or Practicum?

Nursing internship duties vary widely, but students can generally expect to perform lower-level tasks related to patient care. Practicums and internships also differ in their levels of responsibility. Practicum students may perform tasks in a more supplementary role, such as taking vital signs and assisting registered nurses. Participants in more rigorous internships may administer medicine, perform physical assessments, and dress and feed patients. Practicum participants may work under close supervision, while interns often take on more responsibility and perform some tasks on their own.

In Which Type of Setting Will I Work?

Internships for nursing students take place in a wide variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices, and nursing homes. Online learners frequently participate in internships and practicums as part of their coursework. Most schools allow students to arrange internships within their own community, making it possible to complete the experience without much travel. Students with an organization already in mind can work with their school to set up an internship, and most schools can also assist students who need to locate an organization.

How Long Will My Internship or Practicum Last?

Internships and practicums vary in length between different programs and different degree levels. At the undergraduate level these experiences may last a single semester, while at the master's level they may last throughout much of the program. Internships typically occupy more time each week, functioning similarly to a part-time job, while practicums usually require fewer weekly hours and less commitment. However, duration and weekly hour requirements vary widely between different programs, so make sure to research individual practicum requirements.

Will I Get Paid for My Nursing Internship or Practicum?

In general, students receive no pay for practicum experiences given that they amount to supervised observation sessions, and students still primarily report to faculty members rather than organization employees. Conversely, some schools and healthcare organizations do offer paid pre-nursing internships for college students.

Will I Get Academic Credit for My Internship or Practicum?

Typically, both practicums and internships for nursing students offer academic credit, with some exceptions. Most nursing programs include these experiences as part of their curriculum, with credit often equivalent to one academic course. Internships and practicums frequently include academic components that require students to reflect on their experience and relate it to course materials. Particularly in practicum experiences, where hands-on work may play a smaller role, participants complete academic projects examining the practicum environment and procedures. One exception may include internships completed outside of a program's curriculum (likely during the summer), though students often earn credit for these experiences.

How Will My Nursing Internship or Practicum Help Me?

Internships and practicums build both hard and soft skills that serve nurses throughout their careers. Most programs maintain a detailed list of practicum objectives for nursing students, and participants develop a deeper understanding of clinical topics such as patient care practices, healthcare policies, care planning, testing and procedures, and medication administration. Outside of these specialized skills, participants build a variety of generalized skills applicable to nursing and healthcare work, including communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, adaptability, and safety awareness. In general, internships and practicums introduce students to the realities of a professional work environment, taking learning out of the classroom and into the real world. Students see how academic theory informs professional practice, observing the relationship between these two equally important spheres. These experiences also enable nurses to make valuable professional connections, which often prove useful in finding a job after graduation.

Where to Find Nursing Internships

Students can take one of several pathways to internships, both in-person and online. The list below outlines some of the most convenient options.

  • Your School's Career Center: Campus career centers help students locate professional experiences such as internships and practicums, and career counselors connect nurses to these opportunities.

  • Job Fairs: Job fairs serve as another valuable opportunity to connect to healthcare organizations, allowing students to communicate directly with current employees and discover internship openings.

  • Recruiting Events: Organizations host recruiting events to develop their employee ranks; these events serve as an excellent forum to network and identify potential internship opportunities.

  • Alumni Network: Most schools boast extensive alumni networks filled with talented, successful professionals. Many colleges connect current students to alumni who can provide job and internship connections.

  • Job Boards and Internship Databases: Many schools host online internship databases that make it easy to locate local internships and practicums. Students should also search online for internship and job options.

Nursing Internship Opportunities

  • Indeed: Career database site Indeed offers listings specifically for nursing internships. The site generally only includes paid internships, and users can filter results by location.

  • Work the World: This database focuses on international internship opportunities, offering nurses the chance to study global health practices in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

  • WayUp: WayUp is an internship database that enables users to filter results with parameters, including location and pay. The site also includes listings for remote nursing internships -- ideal for online students.

  • International Medical Aid: Another organization focused on global health, IMA connects nurses to internship opportunities in high-need areas like the Caribbean, East Africa, and South America.

  • National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions: Serving students in all areas healthcare, the NAAHP offers a comprehensive internship database that includes opportunities for nurses.

  • HOSA-Future Health Professionals: Recognized by the Department of Education and the Health Science Education, HOSA offers connections to healthcare internships around the country, including several for nurses.

Resources

  • American Nurse Association: One of the country's largest professional organizations for nurses, the ANA offers resources for both students and professionals, including internship preparation resources.

  • National Student Nurses Association: The NSNA ranks among the best resources for student nurses, offering education, career development, scholarships, networking opportunities, and professional support.

  • Nursing and Allied Health Resources: Operated through the Medical Library Association, this site takes the form of a Wiki that hosts a wide variety of nursing information and resources.