Extern Program Provides Hands-On Experience for Nursing Students

April 29, 2015

By Mercy's Jeff Raymond

Lauren Tillison

Nursing students typically have a strong opinion of where they want to work before they have made the rounds – both literally and figuratively.

Once they have been through Mercy Hospital’s nurse extern program, they often find new passions in unexpected places.

Amanda Moore, a nurse manager who will be overseeing this year’s extern program, said participating in the program changes students’ minds.

“A lot of them come out of nursing school thinking, ‘I want to work here or there,’ but they really don’t know because they haven’t worked in other departments,” she said.

Lauren Tillison, an East Central University nursing student who has completed the extern program and is working as a licensed practical nurse while she awaits her May graduation, is one such case.

Tillison has wanted to be a nurse since she was 3 years old, and she hasn’t wavered. She still wants to work in the emergency room or intensive-care unit, as she always has, but her experience in the extern program taught her to appreciate the skills and relationships she is developing while working on the medical-surgical unit.

“Honestly, med-surg is not where I wanted to work at all,” said Tillison, 23. “I always wanted to be an ICU nurse or an emergency nurse. But going through the externship, I was able to talk to a lot of nurses and they explained that it’s really good to have that base to build on.”

These skills include knowing about chronic ailments such as heart disease and pneumonia, and learning the value of educating patients more than a nurse would in the fast-paced ER and high-tech ICU.

Mercy Ada welcomes 13 externs to this year’s program, which begins in June and continues to supply the hospital with well-trained nurses. The eight-week program aims to expose participants to a variety of nursing specialties, but it keeps its focus on teaching student nurses clinical skills in a supportive, safe environment.

“It is an educational experience. We do not use them as staff members,” said Liz Klingensmith, director of nursing for the hospital.

At each rotation, student nurses are paired with senior nurse mentors. The one-on-one attention and intensive schedule allow them to do more than they can during their nursing school clinical classes. 

Upon completion of the program, the hospital works with externs and departments leaders to place the externs in a department of the student’s choice and will work with them to obtain their LPN and RN licenses. The program takes students primarily from ECU, Seminole State and Murray State colleges, but students have come from as far as Langston University and metro-area nursing schools.

The plum, of course, is a job after graduation. In many years, 75 percent of extern graduates accept jobs with Mercy.

“I already have a job with them after graduation,” Tillison said. “I know where I’m going to be, and I’m going to grow into that role.”

For the administrators of the program, the benefits are obvious. They have seen eight weeks during the summer transform nursing students from tentative and unsure to confident and skilled.

“I think it’s worth its weight in gold,” Moore said. 

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