Internship Offers Path to Critical Care, Specialized Nursing Careers                                                           

Jane Sherman, BSN, RN, a critical care nurse intern in the surgical intensive care unit, with her preceptor, Donald Mildner, BSN, RN.

Conventional wisdom held that the path into the highest-intensity areas of nursing such as critical care, trauma, and emergency required working your way up, gaining experience in other types of units and moving into those areas after several years.

Seeking to bridge that gap between school and specialization, Rhode Island Hospital created a critical care internship more than 10 years ago that now offers a dozen areas of practice.

The internship program draws from existing nurses at the hospital as well as recent graduates and nurses from other hospitals.

Jane Sherman, BSN, RN, graduated from Rhode Island College in December, and during her last semester she completed a rotation in surgical intensive care, where a manager suggested that she apply to the program. 

“I spent a semester in critical care, and I loved it. When they told me about this opportunity I had to at least apply,” says Sherman, 28. About a month after graduation, she was thrilled to learn she’d landed one of the coveted 11 spots for the spring semester.

Internship candidates must go through a rigorous screening as the hospital works to ensure that they’re cut out for the positions before making the investment. 

“They go from zero to 150 (miles per hour) coming in here,” says Sherman’s preceptor, Donald Mildner, BSN, RN, who has been on the trauma intensive care unit since 1996. He has precepted at least five of the current 36 TICU nursing staff.

“I’m a nurse just to be a nurse,” says Mildner, 47. “But if I have this knowledge, I might as well share it. When I come here to work with someone like Jane, who’s bright, capable, and always comes well-prepared, it makes it enjoyable, and makes me go beyond my own daily work.”

Interns in the program work full-time, matching the schedule of their preceptors. They also have classroom study each week and attend lectures from experts in neurosciences, hemodynamics, cardiac/respiratory care, anesthesia, burn treatment, and more. 

Donna Saul, director of inpatient services for critical care, says Rhode Island Hospital – the tertiary care hospital for the region – is a great setting for such internships. 

nursing interns at rhode island hospital
Chloe Grenga, BSN, RN, CCRN, now an assistant clinical manager, took advantage of the critical care nurse internship.

“We have some world-renowned faculty on the medical staff. It’s a place where if you want to be in critical care and work in an academic medical center, it’s a great opportunity,” she says.

For Chloe Grenga, BSN, RN, CCRN, the internship provided a path to her dream to become a nurse in an ICU, where experience is vital to caring for the most complex of medical cases.

Grenga entered the internship program immediately after nursing school and then became a nurse on the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. In October of 2016, she was promoted to the floor’s assistant clinical manager.

“In the ICU, you can never have an expectation of how your day is going to go,” says  Grenga. “It took me probably a year to know that I could respond to a lot of things that could happen throughout the day.”

Grenga says she likes to help match new ICU interns with preceptors, as creating a strong connection between the two is important.
For Sherman, Mildner was a perfect preceptor.

“Don is amazing,” says Sherman. “He makes things that are so complex very easy to understand.” The serious nature of their work makes Sherman appreciative of Mildner’s matter-of-fact way and sense of humor.

Sherman is learning how important camaraderie is in such settings. She remembers a week early in the internship with several difficult cases that weighed on her. 

“Don asked me if I was OK,” she recalls. “With him and my other co-workers, we talked about the cases afterward … I just watched how they handled situations – you sit and talk, get your feelings off your chest, use your support system.”

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