Whether you are earning your nursing degree at an on-campus program or you are enrolled in one of the many online master of science in nursing programs, classroom learning is only part of your educational experience. In order to complete your degree program, you’ll have to successfully complete a practicum, or master of science in nursing , within a hospital or other health care environment.
Because MSN candidates generally already hold a BSN in nursing and the registered-nurse designation, the MSN practicum is less about developing hands-on patient-care skills, and more about developing skills in management, supervision and training. Although the specifics of every program vary, there are some things you can expect no matter where you practice.
Finding a Location
The first step to a successful practicum experience is finding a place that will accept you as a student and that can provide qualified leaders and advisors to guide you throughout the experience. In some cases, your school will assign you to a local health care facility with which they already have a relationship. The facility already knows the requirements of the program, and will provide a training experience that is appropriate and rigorous.
When you’re attending an online program, however, you might be expected to locate a facility to complete your requirements on your own. In most cases, the program will specify the facility requirements, and then help you complete the necessary paperwork in order to work within that facility. Keep in mind, though, that some hospitals have established relationships with particular schools, and may not be willing to accept a student from outside of that program.
Preparing for the Practicum
As you prepare for your practicum, it’s important to review your program’s requirements to ensure you’re ready for the experience. Some programs, for example, require students to develop a formal proposal for the practicum, outlining what they hope to accomplish while working in the field. Others require that students have met all of the prerequisites for the practicum experience.
Beyond the academic aspects, though, there are significant paperwork responsibilities you must complete before you start work. Your school and the practicum site will outline these requirements, which include up-to-date vaccinations; in most cases, you’ll have to prove immunity to measles, mumps and rubella, hepatitis, chickenpox and meningitis, as well as test negative for tuberculosis and show proof of up-to-date tetanus shots. Some sites also require a complete health assessment as well as a drug test.
Before you can begin working with patients, you’ll most likely have to pass a criminal background check in addition to passing the health screenings. You’ll also need to have adequate insurance coverage, protecting you against liability in the unlikely event something goes wrong. Some facilities might also require that you undergo their HIPPAA training, and provide proof of CPR certification.
What to Expect
Because every practicum experience is different, it’s impossible to predict exactly how your experience will play out. In most cases, though, you can expect to work with an experienced manager who will supervise your interactions with other nurses and patients. For those studying to be nurse managers, your assignments will give you the chance to apply your knowledge of leadership and management, while those studying to become nurse educators will use the theories of curriculum design and development, education, training and evaluation in real-life situations.
Most practicum experiences require about 100 hours of hands-on experience, meaning that most students will not work in the facility full time. In most cases, the practicum experience will be a few hours a week, allowing students to meet their other obligations while they learn; however, graduate students will still be expected to adhere to the hospital policies, such as dress code and behavior.
Hands-on experience is a key component of any educational program, especially when it comes to health care and nursing. While the MSN practicum may be shorter — and less clinically intense — than that required for a nursing bachelor’s degree, it is still a valuable and important experience. Knowing what to expect and how to approach the experience will help you get the most out of it and launch your successful nursing leadership career.
About the Author: After earning her MSN online, Alexis Levy moved into a nurse education position at a large California hospital. She enjoys working with students of all ages, helping them develop their nursing skills and careers.