What is a Practicum?

If you’re aiming for a certification during your college experience or when you’re getting ready to enter the career field, you might find that a practicum is necessary. But what is it? In short, a practicum is a program where you will apply what you have learned in a classroom setting in the field. They are similar to internships but have some key differences. We break down everything below so you know what to expect if you’re required to do a practicum.

What is a Practicum?

A practicum is an opportunity for students to earn college credit and to take what they’ve learned in a class and apply it in a real setting. This ensures that you’re not only retaining what you’ve learned in a course, but that you know how to apply that knowledge in your chosen career field. You are essentially integrating study with practice. Practicums may be required for certain certifications in specific fields. 

Here are some quick facts:

  • Some practicums may have eligibility requirements including a minimum GPA.
  • You will have to document competencies and meet hour commitments. 
  • These are generally unpaid, but you will receive college credit.
  • Practicums can vary in location and length, ranging from a few days to an entire semester.
  • Requirements for practicums are set by the college or state.
  • A supervisor oversees these courses.
  • You may have to request a spot or assignment in a practicum.
  • Students interested in a practicum should work with the college and workplace administration to ensure the experience meets the requirements of the program for credit and certification.

What Can You Expect in a Practicum?

A student’s experience in a practicum can vary from career to career. Most, however, tend to include:

  • Job shadowing
  • A guide to on-site experience
  • Data recording
  • Assisting with tasks
  • Specific course requirements
  • Observation
  • Comparing observations to subjects learned in the course

In general, students can expect to meet for the practicum 2 to 3 times a week for a few hours each time.

Not all areas of study or certifications will require a practicum. Here are three majors that generally require practicums and what students can expect:

  • Education. Students may be asked to be an assistant teacher or student teacher in an education setting. They should be prepared to practice planning assignments, working with students, grading papers and assignments, and general teaching
  • Social Work. Students in a social work practicum could work with families, organizations, or individuals and shadow current employees. Most experiences in this practicum stick to observations and recording.
  • Nursing. Under supervision, future nurses will be tasked with practicing certain procedures they’ve learned in their courses.

A Real-Life Example from a Nursing Student

We wanted to know from a real live student, what to expect out of practicum. So we asked our intern Hannah S. who is a nursing student at the University of Vermont.

How long is your practicum? 

Practicums are typically 11 weeks long and during this time you are in the hospital every day for 8 hours. You are assigned to a nurse and you follow their schedule.

What do you do during your practicum? 

In a hospital practicum, nursing students engage in direct patient care under supervision, observe and assist in various medical procedures, learn about patient assessment and charting, and get exposed to different specialties within nursing. They work alongside experienced nurses and healthcare professionals, gaining insights into the practical aspects of patient care and hospital operations.

Is this a requirement of your degree?

Practicums are required during the senior year before you graduate. It’s essential for gaining real-world experience and is often a requirement for licensure. The practicum allows students to apply theoretical knowledge in a clinical setting, a crucial step in becoming a nurse.

What benefits are you seeing with it?

The benefits I am seeing from the practicum in a hospital are huge in my confidence with patients. I am gaining hands-on experience in patient care, developing clinical skills, learning about teamwork in healthcare, and understanding the dynamics of working in a hospital. It also offers networking opportunities and a chance to explore various nursing specialties, helping in career decisions.

Any tips on making the most of your practicum?

It is important to ask any questions you have to your nurse, doctors, and any other healthcare workers. It is also important to say yes to everything! You are often asked if you feel comfortable doing a task, and it is best to try it because that it when you will learn.

What’s next after you complete your practicum?

After completing the practicum, nursing students typically return to academic studies or graduate. Post-practicum, students often are more confident in their clinical skills and have a clearer picture of their career path. This experience is pivotal for passing licensure exams and seeking employment as a registered nurse.

Benefits of a Practicum

The most obvious benefit of a practicum, outside of the fact that it is a requirement for some certifications,  is the ability to practice for your future career. With hands-on learning experience directly tied to a course, students can learn and practice in a safe and supervised environment. 

Other benefits of these courses can include:

  • Improved communication skills
  • Ongoing feedback and support
  • Learn to work and collaborate with others
  • Improved time management and productivity skills
  • General work skills such as proper work behavior, attire, and expectations 
  • Learned organizational skills
  • A portfolio to use after graduation

Practicum vs Internship

If you think a practicum sounds just like an internship or externship, you’re not wrong. But they are actually different. A practicum is directly tied to your coursework, graduation, and certification requirements. For these courses, you’ll get credit towards your degree and it is likely unpaid. Experiences will change depending on the industry, but practicums can also be completely hands-off.

An internship, however, isn’t always a requirement and is usually optional. They may be offered through a college, but they are not connected to any specific class. Any organization, business, non-profit, or agency can offer an internship. And while you may be able to get some credit for this experience, internships can also be paid. In addition, there is no standard for what students will experience as interns, but participants can expect hands-on jobs and training.

Practicum is a great opportunity to really put your skills to work, learn from the experts, get “practical” experience, and improve your own strengths and weaknesses. All of the lessons you’ll learn will pay off big time when you’re due to enter the career field! 

Are you on the fence about your career? Or not sure what type of education your dream career will require of you? Our Career Finder makes navigating through the jobs easy! You can explore careers, salary expectations, requirements, job growth expectations and more – all for free. Learn more here.

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