Nursing Internships: What to Expect and Benefits for Students

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Tables of Contents

  1. What to Expect from a Nursing Internship
  2. Benefits of Nursing Internships
  3. Tips for Finding Nursing Internships
  4. Nursing Internship Opportunities
  5. Expand Your Education with a Nursing Internship

Choosing a career path in nursing is a journey. Nurses need time to refine their skills and knowledge in their practice area, but they also need real-world experience. A student nurse may dream of working with new mothers and babies, but only time spent in an obstetrics unit can confirm that’s the right choice. That’s why nursing internships are so valuable. They help nurses discover what they find most interesting and fulfilling while giving them a chance to gain valuable skills.

A nursing intern and RN looking at a clipboard.

What to Expect from a Nursing Internship

Nursing internships offer unlicensed nursing students and recent nurse graduates clinical experience shadowing licensed nurses. These professional learning experiences give interns hands-on time with actual patients, along with support from knowledgeable clinicians.

Nursing internships are often 10- to 12-week summer sessions; some are longer, even up to a year. The internships are usually full-time positions.

Most nursing internships require applicants to meet certain criteria, such as enrollment in an accredited nursing program and completion of specific courses. Course requirements will vary according to the nature of the internship. However, interns often need to have completed a basic life support class and a foundational nursing course to secure a position.

Settings for nursing internships can vary, but most nursing interns work in inpatient facilities, such as hospitals and long-term care facilities. In these organizations, internship settings can also vary, from critical care units to pediatric units to medical-surgical units.

Nursing interns can expect establishments to assign them a nurse mentor, also referred to as a nurse preceptor. The nurse mentor is an experienced registered nurse. Interns perform their work within arm’s reach of their mentors, who can answer questions and offer guidance and feedback. Typically, an intern’s work schedule will mirror the mentor’s. That means if the mentor works 12-hour rotating shifts, so does the intern.

What Do Nursing Interns Do?

Nursing interns observe registered nurses performing their day-to-day duties. As such, they get direct exposure to the hours and shifts that nurses work, their interactions with peers and patients, and their responsibilities. This provides interns with insight into the joys, challenges, and intricacies of nursing work.

In addition to observing their mentors, interns carry out many duties themselves. Often they assume a role similar to that of a nursing assistant. This involves helping patients with daily living activities, such as eating and hygiene. Nursing interns also assist registered nurses with their duties.

Depending on the setting and nature of the intern position, nursing intern duties can vary. However, common duties include the following:

  • Cleaning
  • Bathing and dressing patients
  • Administering medication
  • Taking vital signs
  • Recording medical histories
  • Reporting unusual findings to nurses

Do Nursing Internships Pay?

While most nursing interns receive pay for their work, some positions don’t pay. The median hourly rate for paid positions was about $23 as of December 2021, according to PayScale. The hourly pay range for nursing interns is between around $12 and $38. Job location, employer, experience, and position type can factor into how much nursing interns earn.

How Do Nursing Internships Differ from Practicums and Externships?

Aspiring nurses can get valuable trainee learning experiences in a few ways, including the following:

  • Practicums
  • Nursing internships
  • Externships

How do these experiences differ?

Practicums, also referred to as clinicals, make up a key component of nursing program curricula. To graduate, nursing students must complete practicums, which involve clinical hours under the supervision of a registered nurse and nursing program faculty member. Unlike many nursing internships, practicums aren’t paid.

Though some nursing programs require students to complete nursing internships, these positions don’t involve faculty supervision. Most, in fact, are independent of nursing programs altogether. Additionally, nursing internships typically provide more varied and deeper experiences than practicums.

Externships are similar to nursing internships in that they involve shadowing experienced nurses and performing duties like those of nursing interns. However, these positions tend to last for a shorter period of time, usually between one day and eight weeks.

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Benefits of Nursing Internships

Internships give nursing students a chance to gain valuable learning experiences that help them bridge the gap between theory and practice. Paid internships can also help nursing students defray the costs of their degree and learn at the same time.

Consider the numerous benefits of nursing internships.

Exposure to Diverse Work Environments

Dozens of different types of nurses exist, and not all nursing students know exactly what specialty area they want to pursue. Without real-world experience, it’s difficult to know if they’ll find it more rewarding to work as a hospice nurse than as a surgical nurse. Nursing students who think they know where and in what capacity they want to work sometimes find that their “ideal” job isn’t actually a good fit.

Nursing internships allow nursing students to better understand what different roles entail. These training positions help nursing students learn more about a specialty area firsthand. Nursing interns may get to experience what nursing looks like in a stroke unit or in a nursing home, discovering the unique methods that nurses use to treat patients in different environments. Checking for pain in a stroke patient who can’t speak, for example, differs considerably from checking for pain in an elderly person who can.

Guidance from Experts

Nurse mentors give interns a chance to develop their clinical skills in a safe environment. They regularly provide professional tips that empower nursing interns to work with confidence and expand their practical knowledge. Nursing interns learn tricks of the trade from their mentors in all types of situations.

During emergencies, nursing interns get to see how the experts respond and who they call. When a nurse spots an abnormal finding, such as a change in skin color or drop in respiratory rate, nursing interns get to hear how an expert nurse relays the information to the doctor and what interventions they ask for.

Hands-on Experience and a Chance to Test Your Knowledge

Working beside an experienced nurse day after day gives interns insights not easily learned in an academic setting. While books and classroom study offer invaluable knowledge of nursing practices and methodologies, nurses need opportunities to apply this learning in real-life situations.

Nursing internships provide hands-on learning experiences with patients from all walks of life. They also help nursing interns understand the interpersonal relationships that shape nursing work. This includes interaction with receptionists, orderlies, technicians, doctors, and volunteers.

Additionally, internships give nursing students a chance to test their knowledge. When nurse mentors set up IV lines or collect blood samples, nursing interns can watch and mentally check the steps. Lessons learned about patient admissions or discharges will also play out before interns, once again giving them a chance to review and test their learning.

Opportunity to Build a Professional Network

Internships give nursing students a chance to network with seasoned professionals. The professionals who nursing students meet during their internships may help direct them to work opportunities in the future. Additionally, nurses can turn to these individuals if they need a professional reference or career advice.

Many organizations hire former interns whose performance impressed them.

Chance to Discover New Interests and Shape Your Career

Internships often introduce nurses to areas or aspects of nursing unfamiliar to them. This exposure can open up new interests that help direct a nurse’s career. For example, interning in an emergency department may help nurses realize they thrive in a high-energy environment, or interning in a nursing home may spark their interest in gerontological nursing.
Nursing internships can also help nurses figure out areas of nursing that don’t suit their personalities or natural talents best. Either way, internships can serve as a powerful tool in shaping a nurse’s career.

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Tips for Finding Nursing Internships

Searching for and landing a nursing internship takes thoughtful planning. However, by following some key tips, nurses can find the nursing internship right for them.

Know Your Requirements

Nursing internships can have widely different pay, specialty areas, settings, work hours, and time frames. Not every internship will suit each nurse’s preferences or needs.

Before starting an internship search, nurses should examine their circumstances to determine when and how many hours they can feasibly work given their other responsibilities. They should also consider whether they can accept an unpaid position. Finally, nurses should come up with at least one or two specialty areas that they’d like to learn more about, and then filter their search accordingly.

Start the Search Early

Nursing internship applications often have deadlines. Starting a nursing internship search early not only helps nurses meet deadlines and avoid missed opportunities but also gives nurses a chance to prepare strong applications. This is important because nursing internships, especially paid ones, are competitive. For the best results, begin looking about six months ahead of time.

Take Advantage of Your School’s Career Center

Nurses have many options for locating nursing internships. School career centers are among them. These resources often maintain lists of available nursing internships. Healthcare organizations looking for qualified nursing interns frequently reach out to school career centers.

Nurses can also turn to their school’s career center for help with resumes and interview preparation. In one-on-one sessions with career counselors, nurses can get expert critiques on their applications. Counselors may also conduct mock interviews to help nurses boost their confidence and practice their interviewing skills.

Check Out Job Fairs

Job fairs offer nurses another great opportunity to find the perfect nursing internship. These events bring together many organizations with job openings, giving nurses a chance to meet many potential employers at one time. Job fairs may also help nurses find less-obvious internship opportunities.

In addition, job fairs give nurses a chance to present themselves in person and make a positive impression. This can set candidates apart when hiring committees decide who to bring in for interviews.

Leverage Your Nursing School’s Alumni Network

Nursing school alumni networks can serve as a great resource for nurses looking for internship opportunities. Alumni are often willing to connect nurses from their alma maters to internships they know about.

Alumni may also have recommendations about how to land specific internships. Consider connecting with alumni at on-campus alumni events, as well as through LinkedIn and other social media platforms.

Research Healthcare Organizations That Interest You

During their internship search, nurses may consider reaching out to healthcare organizations that interest them about internship opportunities. Many healthcare organizations post internship opportunities in the employment section of their websites. Nurses may also communicate directly with individuals in the departments where they want to work.

Sometimes, organizations without active internship programs are open to taking on interns. By approaching a healthcare facility with the idea, nurses can potentially design their ideal internship.

Explore Internship Databases and Job Boards

Many professional nursing associations have career centers with online job boards where nurses can find internship opportunities. They can also use job websites, such as Indeed and Monster, to find internships. Additionally, nurses can take advantage of several general internship databases that allow users to refine their searches with keywords.

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Nursing Internship Opportunities

Ready to find a career-building internship? The following list serves as a great place to start your search:

Resources to Find Nursing Internships

The American Nurses Association, one of the nation’s top professional nursing organizations, provides a career center with a free job search engine that helps users locate internships across the country.

The National Association of Hispanic Nurses career center provides a free job search engine that locates nursing jobs and internships across the country.

The American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology career center caters to advanced practice nurses in anesthesiology. The career center’s free job search engine can help nurses pursuing advanced degrees find internships.

The Academy of Medical Surgical Nurses is a professional nurse association that caters to advanced practice nurses in medical surgery. Nurses in advanced nursing degree programs can use the organization’s free job search engine to search for internships.

GradSiren is an internship and job website for college students and recent grads of all subjects. It offers a job search engine specifically for internships and entry-level jobs. It also provides articles on a range of career advice topics.

WayUp is a career building website geared toward college students and recent graduates. It allows users to create free profiles that showcase themselves to potential employers. Users can also use the site’s search engine to find jobs and internships.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), which helps to set national standards for nursing education, offers a Government Affairs and Policy Experience Internship for nurses interested in health and educational policies. AACN also offers a career center equipped with a free job search engine, useful for locating nursing internships.

Work the World is an organization that arranges nursing internships and other healthcare internships abroad. Students pay for the service, which includes accommodation and organized activities.

Future Health Professionals is a student-led organization that promotes healthcare careers. It lists a range of healthcare internship opportunities on its site.

Chegg Internships, a service devoted to helping users find internships, offers an internship search engine and numerous career advice articles.

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Expand Your Education with a Nursing Internship

Internships can help nurses build their careers and discover their passions. These positions give nurses a chance to expand their learning and test their skills with expert support. Taking the time to research the diverse internship opportunities out there can help nurses find the perfect springboard. Start your nursing internship search today to uncover the learning experience that can help shape your career.

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