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What Is a Nurse Extern and What Do They Do? (With Salary)

September 9, 2021

When becoming a nurse, it's important to gain practical experience of what you learn in the classroom, and many nursing programs even require it. To gain this experience, you can participate in a nursing externship, where you work in medical settings with actual patients to enhance your skills and knowledge while you earn a degree or certification. Knowing more about what a nurse extern is can help you develop professional capabilities and skills, like communication and interpersonal skills, to use throughout your health care career.

In this article, we explore what a nurse extern is, what they do, where they work and how much income they earn to help you decide if gaining a nursing externship is beneficial for you.

Related: Why Work in Health Care? 8 Reasons To Consider a Career in Health Care

What is a nurse extern?

A nurse extern is a medical worker who is still in nursing school, gaining practical experience at hospitals, doctors' offices and various medical facilities to advance their training and education. As a studying professional, you get paid for your health care work, though traditionally not as much as nurses who've earned a degree or certification and have more experience. Nurse externs assist actual patients, provide true medical care and act as patient advocates, helping ensure quality care gets provided to patients regardless of their age, race, condition or background.

By being a nurse extern, you might increase your chances of gaining employment after completing nursing school or get hired by the facility in which you do your externship.

Related: “Should I Be a Nurse?” Factors To Consider

What does a nurse extern do?

A nurse extern provides medical care and assistance to patients, though their student status is often limiting to more intensive care. They report head nurses and doctors and often shadow licensed nurses and other health care professionals throughout their externships. Many nurse externs handle similar tasks as a nursing assistant, which might include tasks like:

  • Recording and monitoring vital signs
  • Drawing blood
  • Performing catheterization
  • Caring for wounds and abrasions
  • Gathering patient specimens for diagnostic testing
  • Giving intravenous therapy (IV)
  • Monitoring patient food intake and diet
  • Helping patients in motion exercise, physical therapy and occupational therapy
  • Performing supervised lab work
  • Transcribing notes
  • Operating dialysis equipment
  • Collaborating with lead nurses, doctors and fellow nurse externs
  • Explaining procedures and medical terminology to patients and their families
  • Documenting health information, medical records and billing information into computer systems

Working as a nurse extern can help you put into practice what you learn in the classroom during your nursing school studies, gain confidence in your abilities and develop other skills, like communication, time management and interpersonal skills, by working directly with patients and other medical professionals.

What is the work environment of a nurse extern?

The environment of a nurse extern traditionally is a hospital setting. The fast-paced and sometimes stressful work environment often includes various shifts on nights, overnights, weekends and holidays to accommodate the 24/7 care provided to patients. You might care for patients with terminal illnesses or permanent disabilities or work in an urgent care setting, handling patients with bleeding, breathing, broken bones and burns and other emergency concerns. Other medical settings you might work in as a nursing extern can include:

  • Neighborhood health clinics
  • Nursing facilities
  • Rehabilitation clinics
  • Cancer centers
  • Blood banks
  • Dialysis clinics
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Physician offices

As a nurse extern, you might hold part-time or full-time employment, depending on the needs of the facility you work for and your educational program. Many nurse extern schedules follow industry standards, like 10-hour and 12-hour shifts with rotating days off, for example. Some hospitals accept nursing students pursuing an associate or bachelor's degree, while others require certain years of schooling and even a grade point average to enroll. Consider checking to see the requirements of facilities you want to work in for your externship before applying.

Related: How To Write a Nursing Externship Cover Letter (With Example)

What skills does a nurse extern need?

A nurse extern can benefit from having a mix of hard and soft skills. Here are several skills you can consider honing or developing:

  • Ethics: Strong ethics as a nurse extern help ensure a patient's wellbeing along with procedures, regulations or laws, like patient confidentiality.

  • Physical stamina: As a nurse extern, you work on your feet, often for long durations at a time, and you might lift and transfer patients or carry heavy medical equipment.

  • Empathy: Empathy allows you to relate to your patients, considering what they're experiencing and how they're coping with medical trauma. Being empathetic can also help you build trust and a stronger connection with your patients, their families and other medical professionals.

  • Teamwork: Collaboration in the health care field is important, and you often work with fellow nurses, social workers, doctors, anesthesiologists and nursing aids to give the best possible care to patients. An attitude of teamwork can make a potentially stressful job atmosphere more bearable and help ensure patients receive adequate and accurate care.

  • Mathematics: As a nurse extern, you might measure a patient's blood pressure, draw a specific amount of blood or note dosages of administered medications. While extensive math skills aren't likely, you often use common calculations, formulas, ratios and conversion rates.

  • Critical thinking and observation: You often observe patients during health ordeals to assess their condition and notice issues before they grow more concerning. An acute attention to detail and strong critical thinking skills can help you listen to patients, detect symptoms and share medical concerns.

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: You work with patients, their families, medical professionals and facility personnel every day, so having strong communication and interpersonal skills is important. Conveying life or death matters in a direct, understandable and empathetic way can help you have a successful career.

Related: Complete Guide to the Nursing Qualifications

What is the job outlook and salary of a nurse extern?

According to Indeed, the average salary for a nurse extern is $58,121 per year. However, this amount can vary based on your education, experience, certifications, location, company and background. Your income can also often include additional overtime pay as a nurse extern.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the health care field is growing. The similarly titled role of medical assistant expects to grow 19% from 2019 to 2029, while the nurse practitioner role sees 45% growth and registered nurses (RNs) see a 7% growth rate in the same time frame. These growth rates reflect the need for preventative care and to address the aging population in the U.S.


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