How to Prepare for Nursing Internships

23 September 2020 by National Bank

Are you starting your nursing program soon? Are you still in school? Several internships will be coming up throughout your studies. Here’s what you need to know about them and how they work. Most importantly, get our expert advice to help you succeed and make the most of it. 

What do these internships involve?

First of all, they’re called clinical practicums. The student is first taught the theory in class, then they’re placed in an internship. “A clinical practicum consists of putting the students in the middle of the action with patients, in clinical situations, so they can put their knowledge into practice,” explains Isabelle Brissette, a nursing professor at the college level and a collaborator in writing the professional exams for the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec (OIIQ).

Nursing internships take place every semester and the number of hours increase as your studies progress. At the college level, students spend about 6 days in an internship during their first semester versus 38 days during their sixth semester. “From their first internship experience, students are in contact with patients. They take their blood pressure, for example,” the expert adds.

What’s the difference between adaptation, observation and initiation internships?

College-level and university-level internships are very similar, except that university-level internships also include critical care and community care, two fields that aren’t covered at the college level. But we refer to clinical practicums rather than adaptation or initiation internships, two terms that aren’t really used by schools here.

“Some CEGEPs offer observation internships from the first semester, where students aren’t really practising and are just there to observe. But it’s pretty rare because you want them to learn the ropes as fast as possible,” Brissette points out.

Where can you study nursing and do internships?

You can do a nursing internship almost anywhere, “in both university hospitals as well as hospitals that aren’t affiliated with universities. You can go to long-term care homes or clinics (especially at the university level). All hospitals are involved. Clinics are reserved more for university internships, but hospitals generally host both university and college internships,” Brissette adds.

Almost all post-secondary schools offer nursing programs. In Quebec, “students getting their diploma of college studies (DCS) can be nurses after having passed their professional exam. Conversely, in other Canadian provinces, you need a bachelor’s degree,” Brissette explains. You can find a list of colleges that offer a DCS in nursing on Pygma’s website; the list of universities can be found on the OIIQ website (French only).

In Ontario, you have to get a bachelor’s in nursing. There are more than a dozen Ontario universities that offer this program. You can find a list of schools approved by the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) here.

What are the best ways to find an internship?

You won’t have to find an internship yourself, and you won’t have to figure out how to sign up. Schools are responsible for taking care of this and internships are assigned to students by the internship supervisor. That means you can focus on your studies.

Can you do an internship abroad?

This is both possible and encouraged – once we can travel abroad again, of course. Before spring 2020, many students were interested in internship opportunities abroad. “And that went for students in both CEGEPs and universities,” Brissette points out.

What are the prerequisites for doing a nursing internship?

Internships are mandatory for earning your diploma. To be eligible for a nursing internship, you need to:

  • Be enrolled in a nursing program at the college level or at the university level.
  • Have your registration certificate issued by the OIIQ. You need to apply for one at least six weeks before your first internship (which usually takes place during your very first semester).
  • Present an immunization record for certain diseases (French only) to be confirmed with your school.
  • Have a CPR/AED certificate (cardiopulmonary resuscitation/automated external defibrillator) if it isn’t already part of your program (some schools offer this course in their curriculum).

In Ontario, clinical practicums are also a prerequisite for earning your diploma. However, they’re included in the university curriculum. As of your first year of study for your bachelor’s, for example, you can do a professional internship, whether in mental health, perinatal care, or community health. Before you begin the clinical part of your studies, you need to submit certain documents to your university, including:

  • Your immunization record.
  • Your CPR course certificate.
  • A copy of your criminal record check.
  • A copy of your vulnerable sector check.

How many hours do you need to complete?

The number of hours you need to complete in Quebec differs for CEGEP and university. You also have to complete a certain number of hours per speciality.

For CEGEP, here’s the breakdown:

  • 540 hours in medicine/surgery (general medicine).
  • 75 hours in perinatal care.
  • 75 hours in pediatrics.
  • 105 hours in psychiatry/mental health.
  • 105 hours in geriatrics.
  • 105 hours in outpatient care.

For university, here’s the breakdown:

  • 160 hours in surgery.
  • 112 hours in medicine.
  • 112 hours in critical care.
  • 112 hours in mental health.
  • 112 hours in community care.
  • 96 hours in a community organization (such as Moisson Montreal).
  • 200 hours with a specific clientele (as per your interests).

What are the differences between the internships in your first, second and third year of study?

The difference lies in the tasks and the numbers of hours to complete per semester. “In the first semester [in CEGEP], students will take vitals and administer oral medication. In their second year, they’ll touch on intravenous. The number of days spent in internship and the number of patients increase, and the tasks get increasingly more complex,” Brissette continues.

Are the internships paid?

All internships are unpaid for both university and CEGEP. “They are unpaid and the internships are mandatory,” Brissette explains. 

What are your best tips for success?

Clinical practicums will allow you to put your books away and apply what you’ve learned. They will give you the confidence you need to react appropriately and be ready in case of any complications.

To succeed, you need to be diligent. “It’s hard to miss days during an internship, because those practical hours are important for developing the skills necessary to become a nurse,” Brissette asserts.

While many universities in Ontario offer a bilingual curriculum, most clinical practicums are in English. Therefore, it’s important to be completely fluent in English, especially since verbal and written communication and the ability to compile information are some of the essential requirements you need to earn your diploma.

What are my job prospects?

There is now a host of different professional opportunities when it comes to types of jobs and schedules, not to mention a variety of places where you can work.

You have a good chance of finding a job (French only) when you graduate. According to the government of Canada, current and future job prospects for nurses are good, meaning there are as many vacant positions as there are qualified workers available. In the next three years, the situation should remain relatively stable, particularly due to upcoming retirements.

“Before, when you thought of nursing, you thought of hospitals. Now there are so many possibilities: nursing consultant, nurse clinician, nurse practitioner. You can get a master’s or a doctorate in nursing, do research, work in a clinic, or sometimes even work abroad,” Brissette concludes.

The field of nursing is a rich one; it’s up to you to follow the path of your dreams. 

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