The Value of External Learning


Working in healthcare, you are more than likely familiar with internships, externships, clinicals or even practicums – the classroom experiences typically required later in certain allied health or nursing programs. Where does external learning (education outside of the typical lecture or lab setting) or service learning (using a skill to give back to the local community) fit in?

Allied health and nursing programs teach a vast number of skills within their programs, and students are set to work with the community upon graduation, which makes external learning prior to graduation such a valuable experience. Often, external learning experiences take place in the early or late portion of a healthcare program, and are sometimes embedded within courses themselves. The students and their communities benefit from these experiences.

External learning opportunities:

Annual Flu Shot Clinics 

Overview: Students administer flu shots to medical staff within a local healthcare organization or in public flu shot clinics that are provided to the community.

Benefits: Students have the opportunity to use the skills they have learned in both the classroom and lab on patients other than their lab partner and the healthcare organization benefits by having extra hands during a high-demand immunization time. Students would also have the opportunity to work with and network with medical staff prior to graduation, giving the healthcare organization the opportunity to see and work with potential employee candidates. 

Blood Pressure Clinics 

Overview: Students provide manual blood pressure checks to assisted living residents at a local facility monthly. 

Benefits: Students have the opportunity to work with an older population of patients. Some patients may need monitoring for their blood pressure on a regular basis. With the students returning on a monthly basis, they have the opportunity to build a rapport with their patients and develop important soft skills. 

Hearing & Vision Screenings 

Overview: Students provide hearing and vision screenings for elementary and high schools within local school districts, like the blood pressure clinics.  

Benefits: Students have the opportunity to work with a different population of patients. Both elementary and high schools are able to conduct hearing and vision screenings faster, allowing for less classroom time to be consumed by annual hearing and vision screenings.

Overall, external learning opportunities like the ones described above can create obvious benefits for communities including more access to healthcare support for those organizations that might have a harder time finding it. For students, external learning is an invaluable opportunity to develop not just clinical skills, but the soft skills that they’ll need in the workplace. Professionalism, versatility and verbal and written communication skills as well as excellence in customer service are all in high demand from today’s employers. Displaying characteristics such as a great attitude, dependability and an impeccable appearance are just as important to develop as a good command of the technical skills. External learning offers students a chance to find the skills that they most need to work on, and hone those skills specifically before they formally enter the workforce. Ultimately, these hands-on experiences can help prepare the student for a better chance at job placement as they graduate.

While the community gains invaluable positives from more healthcare professionals at its disposal, students have a chance to see what the real world is like. Any opportunity to engage in external learning should be seized by students who are motivated and willing to learn and grow. These experiences develop their technical and soft skills, and ultimately engage students further in the remainder of their healthcare program, so they can graduate with confidence and excitement about their chosen profession.