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The Pediatric Nurses of Tomorrow

by Betty Gregg, MSN, RN-BC

New program elevates pediatric nursing

Whitney Stone, Senior Nursing Student. Photo by Leandra Wilkins, ETCH.

Pediatric health care requires family involvement, special understanding, special equipment, and specially trained personnel who recognize that children are not miniature adults. 

As one of four comprehensive pediatric centers in the region, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital offers a unique pediatric environment and the services of many different pediatric subspecialities. Children’s Hospital has always provided smaller hospitals with health care training opportunities. Additionally, Children’s Hospital has introduced a new internship program that targets nursing students.

In 2017, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital collaborated with the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to develop the pediatric nurse internship program, an innovative program that would expand nursing students’ knowledge of pediatric nursing. The program also prepares the nurses of tomorrow to be qualified and desirable candidates in the health care industry.

A new way to learn

Six students were selected to participate in the inaugural nurse internship program at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. During the five-week course, students worked side-by-side with a qualified preceptor as they completed ten 12-hour shifts. Students experienced first-hand the differences between pediatric and adult assessments, treatments, procedures and medications. They learned about growth and development as well as the importance of family-centered care.

“It is an awesome experience because you get to see so much and learn so much first hand,” says Elizabeth Gasnow, one of the program participants.

“The staff and preceptors really seek to teach you,” she says. “And you get to see what being an RN actually is like.”

“Many nursing students have a very limited pediatric experience,” says Betty Gregg, nursing staff development specialist at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. “This program is unique in its ability to build knowledge and relationships between students and mentors.”

Measuring success

Each week students were evaluated by their preceptor for progress. These evaluations provided interns with opportunities for improvement that enhanced their nursing practice and patient care.

“Through this internship, I was able to better understand what my strengths and weaknesses are at this point and can begin working on them accordingly,” says Virginia Williams, a participant in the program.

Outside of patient care areas, students were required to actively participate in meaningful online discussions each week. They also completed case studies and incorporated reflective journaling into their practice.

Investing in the future

One of Children’s Hospital’s top priorities is to emphasize the attitudes and actions valued in the organization. They strive to give extraordinary care and service to patients, families, members of the Children’s Hospital family and the communities served. Their vision is to promote a culture of service excellence in all interactions with patients, families, guests, colleagues, physicians and the community through staff education, support and recognition.

By completing hands-on training, students in the pediatric nurse internship program are equipped with adaptable communication and teaching strategies that will allow them to better reach patients and families. When a family is confident in their nurse’s ability to explain what is happening, they are able to feel less stressed and more participatory in their child’s care.

The pediatric nurse internship program has helped empower nurses in an unfamiliar field of health care. This pediatric-focused program also expands their future career opportunities, beyond standard health care.

Whitney Stone, one of the 2017 interns, says that the internship gave her valuable career direction. “I am in my senior year of nursing school,” says Stone, “and I’m much more motivated to soak in everything we are learning in class. I cannot express how valuable I found this program to be for my education.”

All six of the students successfully completed the mandatory pharmacology calculation review. Of the six, five are very eager to become pediatric nurses upon graduation, and all of them would recommend this program to others.

The pediatric nurse internship program is an example of how East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, in conjunction with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Nursing, strives to improve the health of children by training, preparing and encouraging the nurses of tomorrow.


This article originally appeared in the ETCH Clinical Excellence Annual Report. Adapted with permission.