What does a nurse extern do?

by stitches87 stitches87 (New) New

Hello, I am new to this community and it looks like a great resource! I have just been hired at to work as a nurse extern in the Vanderbilt Medical ICU and it occurred to me that I don't really know what a nurse extern does! I will be working as an extern until I graduate. I have just finished my 1st year in the nursing program, and have 3 more semesters until graduation. Any information you may have, or experience as a nurse extern would be great!

HouTx, BSN, MSN, EdD

Specializes in Critical Care, Education. Has 35 years experience. 9,051 Posts

Extern is just a term used for "not quite a nurse, but getting there" positions. It means that the program is not associated with an academic program (as opposed to Interns, which are). They will provide you with a job description and list of things you will be allowed to do.

Please be very cautious not to overstep your bounds. You will not be able to do the same tasks that you do as a student nurse. You will essentially be considered "unlicensed assistive personnel". It may be a good idea to review your state nurse practice act to find out exactly what types of things a UAP can do in Tenn. I know from actual experience (unfortunately) that if you jump in and volunteer to start that IV or do another type of 'nurse only' task because your preceptor/charge nurse encourages you to do so -- you could get into big trouble that will have an impact on your student status and future chances of licensure.

Congrats on getting such a great opportunity in a really world-class hospital.

madwife2002, BSN, RN

Specializes in RN, BSN, CHDN. Has 26 years experience. 74 Articles; 4,777 Posts

First of all congratulations on securing a position as a nurse extern. I think in today's climate it is going to be a great advantage for you when looking for a job! I was in the fortunate position of mentoring several externs and interns I could teach them so much. True there are strict boundaries of what you can and can't do but if you get a good mentor/preceptor you will be constantly learning. Just being able to function in a hospital environment is a great tool.

You are really just there to learn about basic nursing care and will have limited duties but you will have an advantage when writing that resume



49 Posts

Congrats on the extern position! I'll be starting my externship on saturday 7-7 shift! From what I understand.. I get to shadow a tech for a couple of shifts and then I'm set up with a nurse as my preceptor and even though I don't get to pass meds, or put in IVs or anything like that it is my responsibility to know about the meds and about the process of putting in an IV... Our program coordinator told us that lawfully we are patient care techs but not to think of ourselves as PCTs...

I'm sure you will have an orientation week where they will go into more detail about what you are and aren't allowed to do.. either way it is definitely going to be a great experience and will give you a leg up on a lot of people who will be looking for jobs!


P.S. when do you start working in the ICU? I'll private message you and let you know how my first couple of shifts went... maybe then it'll be more clear about what us externs are supposed to be doing.. lol


mamamerlee, LPN

Specializes in home health, dialysis, others. Has 35 years experience. 949 Posts

So, let me understand this better - - you took a job without being given/told a job description? Did they not review what you would be responsible for?

Every state is different - in Indiana, there is technically no such thing as a student nurse extern. They can get a CNA position, and are usually invited to watch many procedures.

Be very careful not to overstep your bounds. Best wishes!



Specializes in orthopedics, telemetry, PCU. 69 Posts

When I worked in nursing school, I was a SNE (student nurse extern). To put it simply, you're daily routine, and scope of practice is that of a PCT. You're mostly helping patients with ADLs and assisting the nurse within the boundaries of your scope. Daily routine involves toileting, turning, bed baths, linen changes, feeding, vital signs, blood sugar checks, and a hundred other little things :) You should be trained in exactly what is expected of you before you start.

Where I worked, everyone also made an effort to involve me/explain when they were doing things like trach care, suctioning, NG tube insertion, foley insertion, etc, as well as any "cool" procedures the docs did bedside, which was the difference between a SNE and a PCT.

Congrats on the position, you learn LOTS of great stuff with a position like this that will prove invaluable for you in school, and as a nurse.

Edited by jorjaRN
additional information



24 Posts

It is probably different for every state/hospital, but when I was a nurse extern I was with a preceptor. I was able to do anything my preceptor was comfortable with, except pass meds. I did assessments, charting (with her co-signing), NG tubes, IV starts, along with ADLs, transfers, helping patients to the bathroom, etc.