Maximizing Your Practicum Experience

A practicum is an exciting time for nursing students earning their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). The experience helps you gain expertise by applying what you have learned to a live healthcare setting. With so much to be gained, it’s important to make sure that you make the most of your time through proper planning and execution.

Consider these tips to increase your success when embarking on your own practicum.

  1. Secure locations Your professor may expect you to set up your own practicum, following certain guidelines in order to meet the requirements for earning practicum credit. It is more likely that you will need to find your own placement if you are an online student.Start by developing a list of targets in your community that offer a good match to the experience you are seeking. Systematically contact the administrators or supervisors who are in charge of the places where you hope to find experience. Be ready to explain and send details such as the nature of your proposed involvement, duration and other aspects.Also, obtain information you may need to collect for your professor to gain approval to use the site. Let your professor or practicum coordinator know as soon as possible if you are running into roadblocks and need assistance.
  2. Find preceptors You may be responsible for finding your own preceptor or mentor to oversee your work. Your professor may provide criteria that must be met, such as holding special credentials, or working for a certain number of years in the field. As you approach potential candidates, share these requirements and what would be expected of them.Be sure to keep your nursing specialty in mind when researching preceptors. For example, if you’re in a Nursing Informatics track, it can be beneficial to work with someone in a clinical informatics analyst position or project management position.
  3. Do your homework Complete and turn in assignments related to your experience as scheduled. These may include worksheets, postings to discussion boards, papers and projects. Your professor is not with you to observe how well you are doing in the field, therefore assignments may be the primary means by which you are evaluated.
  4. Don't hide, seek Your professor won’t be with you to point out learning opportunities. You are operating independently. Familiarize yourself with the objectives and make sure that you find ways to achieve them. Let your preceptor or mentor know that you are eager to learn and ask for their assistance in locating quality experiences.
  5. Report problems Report problems as soon as they develop so that your professor can help you resolve them quickly. Your professor isn’t with you to identify these problems, and it is up to you to initiate communication.
  6. Document the journey Be sure to document your experiences in a journal or log. List the competencies you gained formally or informally through the practicum. Your professor may ask you to record the number of hours you spent. A journal or log helps you keep track of these.
  7. Stay in touch Your professor will want to be kept informed of your progress. They will be grading you and need to know how you are doing. You should also keep your specialty track curriculum in mind as you go. For example, in the Family Nurse Practitioner track, referring back to your experiences during the Immersion Weekend can help you with patient interactions during your practicum.
  8. Ask for references When you graduate, you may find that potential employers are concerned about your lack of work experience. Your practicum may open a door for you if you can show that it has provided you with the knowledge and skills you need for the job. Ask your preceptor or mentor for a reference that you can give to potential employers.
  9. Express thanks Be certain to thank your preceptor or mentor for allowing you to gain valuable experience. Send e-mail cards or personal notes expressing your appreciation. Mention any events or individuals who made the experience especially beneficial. You may want to seek employment or references from those with whom you worked, so you will want to leave with a good impression.
  10. Explore employment If you impress those who oversee your work during your practicum, you may be offered a job when you finish your education. If you would like to pursue employment there, make this known and leave your contact information. Inquire as to how to discover job opportunities in the future.

A practicum presents an excellent opportunity to apply what you have learned to real-life situations, so it is important to maximize the experience. Choose the tips which you think are most likely to increase your chances for success.

For more insights into the practicum experience, check out the 4 Components of a Good Nursing Practicum.

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