As a senior in the Indiana University School of Nursing, Laurie Rutkowski is preparing to embark upon a career where helping people is her top priority.
Though she has learned a great deal from her text books and professors, she says working in the field directly with patients provides her with opportunities she can't get in the classroom.
"We learn ample amounts of information in the classroom, but it is the hands-on experience that will prepare me to be the best nurse that I can be once I graduate," she said.
That's why Rutkowski was eager to apply for an externship program with Franciscan St. Margaret's Health that allows her to hone her skills before she steps out in the job market. She will extern in the Family Birthing Center/Labor, Delivery, Recovery and Postpartum Unit at the Dyer and Hammond campuses.
"Working as a student nurse will make my communications skills stronger and enhance my knowledge on real-life situations at hand," Rutkowski said.
Those skills and experiences are exactly what hospital employers look for when hiring candidates, says Mary Jo Valentine, director of Nursing Professional Development at Methodist Hospitals.
"In school, you're learning the knowledge that then translates into real-life skills," she said. "What externships do is reflect what a real-life environment is in a hospital."
Similar to internships, externships are experiential learning opportunities. Externships are typically paid, and students may go through a hiring process just as any candidate would applying for a job.
Though many externships are reserved for nursing students, several hospitals across the United States offer them in different departments and specialties within the hospital, including administration, internal medicine and radiology. Some externships also allow existing physicians to visit other hospitals on a temporary basis as a learning experience.
Externships can last anywhere from a few weeks to as long as a year or two, depending on the program.
In Rutkowski's case, she will continue to work throughout the school year at her externship at Franciscan St. Margaret's Health. Her responsibilities will include providing direct care of patients pre- and post-delivery and assisting the patients with activities of daily living.
"I will be obtaining, reporting and recording patients' vital signs, intake and output," she said. "I will do all of these skills and more under the direction of the responsible nurse with the acceptance of the Standards of Nursing Practice and the hospital's policies and procedures."
Programs such as these give students invaluable experience, Valentine said.
"When they do become a nurse, you want them to recognize early what is going on with the patient," she said.
At Methodist Hospitals, the externship program provides an opportunity for the hospital system to start its own recruiting pool.
"The reason we like the externship program is it allows us to grow our own," Valentine said. "When we have positions open, they'll stay with us and continue their nursing careers."
She says all externs who are hired must go through a job interview and receive a salary.
Patty Cavalier, human resources director for Ingalls Memorial Hospital, says although the hospital offers a robust clinical program and several internship positions, the hospital also offers externships for students.
"On the administrative side, we've had a lot of students come in here and do a lot of internships, and we do have a few what you could call quasi-externships who are students who just come over on their shorter breaks and specifically focus on an assignment they're working on," she said.
Rutkowski, who begins her externship Aug. 1, said she is excited to work with patients and learn more nursing skills.
"I will work while I study and take the NCLEX exams next summer," she said. "I'm looking forward to this new experience."