COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured

The win-win model of clinical externships

Laura Slipp
Written by Jessica Lepore

Just one month after the global pandemic was declared, Laura Slipp joined Sunnybrook as a clinical extern.

Still in nursing school, Laura jumped on the opportunity to work in a hospital setting during one of the most turbulent and unprecedented times in health care.

“There were so many unknowns, especially at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Laura, who joined Sunnybrook in April 2020. “I just felt like I was able to make the decision to jump in there… I wanted to be a part of it. I felt like I was in a position to be able to help,” she says.

The clinical extern program has been in place at Sunnybrook for a number of years, but was recently expanded when the pandemic was declared.

The program invites nursing students to work part-time as members of a health-care team, gaining hands-on patient care experience, while also supporting interprofessional teams that could benefit from additional support.

Before the pandemic, around five externs were hired at Sunnybrook each year. This year, 51 externs have joined our hospital care teams, with a goal to recruit a total of 75.

“Every day, all of the nurses I’ve worked with have been so thankful for everything I’ve been able to do for them. It’s neat to be in a position to help them out and also be able to learn from them,” says Laura.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed increased pressures on nurses across the health-care system as workload demands have increased, the patients they’re caring for are more critically ill, and as the country faces a growing shortage of nurses in the workforce.

Externs play a key role in supporting hospital teams, by providing direct patient care and clinical unit support. Their responsibilities and care tasks may include participating in patient assessments, taking vital signs, assisting with comfort measures and patient safety, supporting safe feeding, and more.

For Laura, it has been these opportunities to spend more time with patients that has made the externship experience so valuable for her.

“In an externship, it’s patient-focused. I need to make sure I’m doing what I need to do for the patients I’m assigned to,” she says. “That’s one of the things that’s been the most impactful for me.”

While externships are not integrated into a nursing student’s learning curriculum, the program functions as compliment to the education students receive through school, says Tracey DasGupta, Director of Interprofessional Practice at Sunnybrook.

“Externships enable students to move into a clinical setting, become comfortable in this setting and become members of an interprofessional care team within the hospital,” says Tracey.

“It’s a win-win as externs become a part of our care teams, they help support patient care and help maintain safe, quality care within the hospital,” she says.

For Laura, participating in the externship program has helped build her confidence as a new nurse, make connections, and has helped reassure her in her decision to pursue nursing as a career.

“The additional experience in the hospital gave me a ton of confidence as I was heading into my final semester of school, and again now as I am looking forward to starting out as an RN. I loved being part of the teams on each unit, and having the chance to learn from so many nurses and health-care professionals has been invaluable,” she says.

“I feel grateful to have found this opportunity.”

About the author

Jessica Lepore

Jessica is a Digital Strategist & Project Manager at Sunnybrook.