UMSL/BJC externship grants student nurses expertise for clinicals, future practice

From left, Kathy Carr and Lauren Redditt are gaining valuable expertise this summer as student nurse externs on the postpartum and neurology floors of Missouri Baptist Medical Center. (Photo by Jessica Rogen)

From left, Kathy Carr and Lauren Redditt are gaining valuable expertise this summer as student nurse externs on the postpartum and neurology floors of Missouri Baptist Medical Center. (Photos by Jessica Rogen)

Shifts start with the huddle. Then comes the night nurses’ reports, followed by charts and the brain – a plan for the day – plus report sheets, setting priorities, pulling and administrating medications and stroke scale assessments.

All that doesn’t even take Lauren Redditt to 10 a.m. during one of her 12-hour shifts.

The day’s length, though, is part of the appeal for the BSN student who is midway through the UMSL/BJC Summer Nurse Externship.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve done a lot, actually,” Redditt said. “We learn these skills in lab, and we never use them in clinical because we’re not there long enough. Just in the few short weeks that I’ve been there, I’ve started four IVs. I’ve done bladder scans and straight caths. I’ve seen a code stroke; I’ve almost seen code blues.”

Though Redditt came in with hospital experience, the longer shifts have reinforced her education and allowed her to pick up new skills with confidence. That rapid acquisition of proficiencies is at the heart of the externship program, which is a collaboration between the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Nursing and the BJC HealthCare System. The program is directed by faculty members Dr. Tonya Haynes, coordinator, and Mimi Hirshberg, co-coordinator.

The externship program, which is an example of an academic-clinical partnership, has been in existence for more than 20 years. It is open to BSN students nationally and is highly selective; to be considered students must have a 3.0 GPA. Externs receive a stipend while participating in the 10-week program, which runs this year May 20 to July 27. Applications for the next round open in mid-fall and close at the end of January.

The college places externs in Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Progress West Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Each extern is paired with a mentor in a different hospital and in a unit such as general surgery, the neonatal intensive care unit and cardiology.

The 2019 UMSL cohort includes Redditt, Christina Bearden, Kathy Carr, Megan Grannemann, Rebecca Hairer, Madison Koogler, Chloe Morrison and Aida Musovic.

For some students, like Carr – a single mom who balances full-time study with caring for her two teenagers – the summer intensive is an opportunity that would not fit in her schedule during the school year. That’s important to Carr because she’d noticed that her classmates with hospital experience had a leg up in clinicals.

Additionally, she values the scope of the externs’ practice, which is far greater than that of a student nurse technician or certified nurse assistant – the normal avenues of firsthand experience for BSN students.

“A student extern is allowed to do most of what a nurse can do. Not everything, but almost everything,” Carr explained. “As a student nurse, I can put in IVs; I can assess patients. I can teach patients – all that patient education, nurse technicians can’t do that.”

Redditt, who has worked at St. Mary’s, DePaul and Delmar Gardens of O’Fallon as a student nurse tech, agreed that this summer has been different at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.

Caring for patients on the neurology floor means working with those suffering from strokes, migraines, seizures and multiple sclerosis.

“I get to practice therapeutic communication and being a support for my patients,” Reddit said. “One patient asked us to be there when he talked to his significant other. Dealing with emotions of the patient and their family – because we have to treat them both as patients – was a new thing. You can’t get emotional. You have to show strength, empathy and compassion regardless of what they are going through.”

Carr also feels the draw of supporting patients. Working nights on Missouri Baptist’s postpartum floor, she assesses and charts the health and progress of mothers and their newborns and prepares them to return home.

“In postpartum, we do a lot of patient education,” she said. “You’re at a point where mom’s had a baby, the whole family is going through a transition, and your word really means something to them. You feel like you’re going to make an impact on how that family functions. I feel like each family unit is going to function maybe just a little bit better, stronger, better educated because of the nursing care.”

Carr and Redditt already feel the experience has boosted their confidence and critical thinking skills. They expect that to carry over to classes and then to preparing for the National Council Licensure Examination, which will certify them as registered nurses after graduation.

As they go into their next year of study at UMSL, both have begun to think about the future, and that means more education.

Carr, as a solo breadwinner, believes an advanced degree will help her better support her family while strengthening families and communities outside her sphere. For Redditt, the future means matriculating directly into UMSL’s DNP program where she hopes to focus on women’s health and labor and delivery.

Both feel that UMSL and outside resources have made the difference in their educations. Carr has benefited from the Ann G. Albert Elbert-Brock Endowed Memorial Nursing Scholarship, Curtis and Dianne Coonrod Oncology Scholarship, Towards Independence Scholarship, Tracy Sherman Memorial Nurses Scholarship and the Florissant Elks Ladies Scholarship. Redditt has received the Black Faculty and Staff Association Leadership Award and Black Nurses Association of Greater St. Louis scholarships.

The current president of the Minority Student Nurses Association, Redditt never expected to be in a leadership position but has found the experience invaluable.

“I’ve had contact with a lot of women who are now nurses and have been going through the same process I’m going through that have served as a support system for me,” she said. “It really challenged me to want to do better and to fulfill my potential because you should never be satisfied with the status quo, you should always strive to want better and to do better. I want to be a positive influence on others. I want people to know they can do it and it’s possible if you work hard and put your mind to it.”

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