How To Gain Real-world Experience While In Nursing or medical School

It can come as a shock when you realize that years of university preparation do little to prepare nursing and medical school students for that first day on the job.

The ability to function as a member of a team, to radiate empathy in a highly stressful environment, to impart compassion and hope in even the most dire medical circumstances; these are skills neither taught,nor mastered, in the confines of a classroom.

Public Educator programs understood this lesson long ago. That is why they require candidates to complete one year of student teaching before they can be certified.

Many nursing and medical schools, and the health care employers for whom their students will one day work, feel students deserve the same opportunity to test the waters before diving into the deep. An increasing number of nursing and medical school programs are now designing programs to better prepare their students for the real world of understaffed hospitals, and the chaotic environment that can so often accompany them.


In an effort to integrate more real-world experience into nursing and medical school preparation programs, universities are beginning to offer a wide range of internship options as part of their mandatory program requirements.

Around the third year, many nursing and medical school programs begin placing students into local hospitals and clinics to observe and work alongside experienced medical professionals. Here, students learn the nuts and bolts of patient care, and how to establish their own unique “bedside manner” — the ability to listen to, and empathize with, their patients in a personal way. These clinical “shadow experiences” provide a realistic view of what a career in nursing or medicine is like from day-to-day.

At the same time, students can use this opportunity to begin to explore a variety of career paths within medicine such as surgery, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, family practice, and internal medicine. This invaluable opportunity allows students to discover their strengths and interests before committing to a medical specialty.

Although you may have a clear idea of the field you want to pursue, experts recommend keeping an open mind, especially during the “real world” internship period in the third year.


The final years of nursing or medical school are focused solely on exposing and deepening the student’s understanding of the “real-world” of a medical practitioner.

After completing all of the required coursework, nursing and medical school students will spend three to seven additional years in a residency, where they will gain extensive experience and training in the specialty they have chosen.

After graduation, students will spend at least three years in a graduate medical program. It is during this time that a license to practice must be obtained.

Experts say this comprehensive approach of career exploration, personal development opportunities, and “real world” service experience is crucial to preparing nursing and medical students to be successful in the very competitive field of medicine.