As a nursing student at Penn, summer plans can seem conflicting. Some people will tell you that you need to start working in a clinical setting ASAP while others will tell you it is not necessary. From my experience, it is about what is best for you rather than listening to what others claim is best.
Starting my freshman year, I knew I wanted summer experiences outside of the clinical setting. This was important to me since I was going to gain plenty of hospital exposure during my time in clinical. My belief is that summer presents an important opportunity to take time for yourself and engage in the activities you enjoy. Unplugging from the stresses of school helps create a clean slate for the start of a new school year and decreases burnout. After countless hours of googling variations of the same question: “Summer opportunities for nursing students,” I finally came to a conclusion of how I wanted to spend my time.
Summer camp. This is how I spent the summer after my freshman and sophomore years. After I decided I wanted to work at a camp, I began researching. Like any other job search, I had certain criteria for what I was looking for. I wanted to go somewhere new, I wanted the camp to be well-rated, and I wanted it to be co-ed. The first year, I was in New Hampshire at a co-ed camp called Camp Walt Whitman.
When looking for any experience, I think it is important to have certain expectations, to allow for a positive experience. I was fortunate to work part-time as a student nurse which allowed exposure to basic first aid and medication administration. My sophomore summer, I was at a camp in Ohio called Camp Wyandot. This was completely different from the previous summer, as it was during COVID. A reduced staff led me to teach skills I had never even tried on my own. It was a valuable learning experience for me where I thought my leadership skills really developed, and I learned how to handle difficult situations.
If you are someone who is looking to completely unplug from technology and spend time in the outdoors, I recommend looking into summer camps as your choice of employment. I can say now that they shaped who I am today and helped create a more confident individual which then translated into being a more confident nurse. Although it is not your “typical” healthcare experience, it does speak to how diverse a career in nursing can be based on your interests. It’s also a super fun way to spend your summer if you love kids or are looking to work in pediatrics.
Fast forward to my junior year. The upcoming summer was the one where it felt like if you weren’t applying to an externship, you were not doing something wrong. An externship is an opportunity for a nursing student to gain more hands-on experience and mentorship from an RN. I began researching what options were out there and what programs would best fit my interests. I only came across one in an area I was interested in that also gave me the option to pick what unit I wanted to be on.
Sadly, I was not accepted to the program and that left me with a summer free to do whatever I pleased. There was a period of time where I felt ashamed that I wasn’t fitting into this mold. After talking to other peers and advisors, I realized that the only person putting pressure on me to fit into this mold was myself. So, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and spend my last free summer doing something I enjoyed. This ended up being one of my most relaxing and favorite summers. I ended up nannying three little boys that lived at the beach, two of which had hemophilia and one with mitochondrial disease. My summer was filled with laughter, cuddles, cleaning up messes, and lots of bubble blowing but I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.
To reiterate my previous point, summers should function as a time of rest and recharge. Taking a break and engaging in activities you enjoy is paramount for having a successful school year. Whatever this looks like for you, make sure you’re making yourself happy and not what you think will look good for other people.