What To Expect From Your Nursing Externship


Nursing externships can be challenging. These long-duration, out-of-school externships often give you your very first taste of what life is like for a professional nurse. Pursuing an externship is highly recommended for any nurse trying to get a competitive nursing job out of school.

An externship increases not only your network of connections in the health industry, but also your real-world ability to handle intense nursing situations – something that most hospitals and other clinics look for when hiring nurses. This is especially true as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and many facilities are facing staffing crunches.

In an effort to make your externship as smooth as it can be and help you adjust your expectations, we’ve put together some basics about what to expect from your externship, some tips on interviewing, and other useful information.

What Is a Nursing Externship?

The Nurse Extern vs. Intern: An externship is similar to an internship, but is slightly different. While interns are generally directly involved in job tasks to some extent (especially paid interns), externs are in more of a “shadowing” role. It’s an opportunity for you to find out more about what day-to-day life in healthcare is really like. Usually, externships last for anywhere from six to ten weeks.

The qualifications you’ll need to pursue an externship vary from one facility to another. Usually, you will need to have completed your medical-surgical clinical, and you will need to meet a minimum GPA requirement. You will generally need to get multiple letters of recommendation from faculty at your school and fill out an application. Finally, you will have an in-person interview.

Going through an externship before you graduate can significantly increase your employment options, and make you more competitive for desirable nursing jobs. Not doing an externship could put you at a disadvantage, even if you have a high GPA.

You’ll also learn things about certain procedures and clinical skills that are best “learned by doing” in a real-world clinical setting. It can help you build your confidence and give you experience with complex medical cases – such as those with comorbidities and other complicating factors.

Nurse Extern Interview Questions

According to Glassdoor, these are some of the most common questions asked when one is interviewing for an externship:

  • How do you deal with difficult patients?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your weaknesses and strengths?
  • Why do you want to work in this particular unit?
  • Tell me about a time that you had to solve a difficult problem.
  • What qualities do you have that you think will make you both a good nurse and a good fit for this facility?
  • Describe a situation where you felt uncomfortable. How did you solve the problem?
  • What kind of clinical experience do you have?
  • Tell me about a time when you experienced miscommunication. What did you do, and how did you handle it?
  • Why did you decide to become a nurse?
  • What are your top 3 unit choices, and why?
  • Name a time when you had a conflict. How did you deal with it?

As you can see, interviewing for an externship is a lot like a job interview. The only difference is that you’ll be shadowing staff, not necessarily actively participating, and in most cases, you won’t get paid.

Does An Externship Mean Working for Free?

Usually, no. As an unpaid extern, you won’t be responsible for job duties like a paid intern would be. In fact, in some US states, there are laws that regulate what an unpaid intern or extern can and cannot be required to do. It’s more of an educational opportunity for you, since it’s in a hospital instead of a classroom. However, professionalism is still important, and you should, to some extent, treat it as if it were a job.

Tips for Your Nurse Extern Position

These tips can help you make the most of your nursing externship:

  • Ask questions. You’re there to learn. That’s what an externship is – a learning experience. So don’t overlook this – not only does asking questions show that you’re paying careful attention, it can also save lives. This is especially true if you’re a newer nursing student with less comprehensive knowledge and experience.
  • Stay positive (and don’t freak out). Seriously. Staying positive, calm, and collected is crucial during your externship. Keep a good attitude, even during the worst of times. Your co-workers will appreciate it.
  • Be confident. You may not have the experience that other pros in the field do, but you’re well on your way. So, be confident in your abilities and what you’re good at. After all, you got the externship because someone saw potential in you!
  • Go above and beyond. A great way to think of an externship is as an extended interview. You should be doing everything you can to ensure you’re performing well and adequately in your role – and more.


Externships are tough, but performing well in an externship can mean landing a fantastic job at the hospital of your choice after you pass your nursing exams – so performing an externship is usually well worth it. Give the idea some strong consideration – you’ll likely be glad that you did!

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