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My career: My externship at Mayo Clinic

-Kelly O’Neill, Bernardsville, NJ

Rising senior Kelly O’Neill toured Mayo One –the life flight helicopter at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.- as part of her summer externship experience.


Student Kelly O’Neill shares her experience as a summer extern, following her junior year, at the prestigious Mayo Clinic where she’s interacted with patients from all over the world, enhanced her nursing education and put her knowledge and skills to the test.


This summer I have been very fortunate enough to take part in the ten week Mayo Clinic Summer III nurse extern program at the main campus in Rochester, Minnesota.  I applied to the Mayo Clinic believing it to be a reach, never expecting to be one of the 53 chosen out of 1,000 applicants. I was placed on the Colorectal and General Surgery floor. This was especially exciting for me as I am interested in the surgical patient population and the Mayo Clinic is one of the top hospitals in the nation for colorectal surgery. My experience also included three additional days of observation in the Neonatal Intensive care Unit, Mother Baby and Pediatric Surgical Services. I also participated in an educational day which included a tour of the emergency department and the Mayo One helicopter. 

The Mayo Clinic externship is unique because as a Summer III you are not a patient care technician rather you work side by side with a registered nurse who you’re assigned to for the summer. I have had the opportunity to work with a diverse patient population, who have traveled to Mayo Clinic from all around the world as well as patients ranging from young adults to geriatrics.

As a Summer III, I aided the nurse with the daily care of the patients as well as preforming technical tasks. On a colorectal and general surgery floor the path of a patient’s recovery can vary and it has taught me how to critically think and look for signs of a patient beginning to deteriorate before it escalates to sepsis. This externship has taught me skills that cannot be learned in the classroom or even in clinical. For example, I have learned firsthand what it is like to have a full patient load and how to prioritize patients and plan out my day.

The primary value of the Mayo Clinic is the needs of the patient come first. I truly experienced this first hand by the way the nurses’ advocate for their patients as well as the team work of the entire organization to provide the best patient care possible.  I am honored to have learned from an organization that truly puts the patient first and hope to bring these lessons and skills back to Villanova and incorporate them into clinical. Above of all, I have gained more empathy for patients than I ever knew was possible.

At the Mayo Clinic and my floor especially, you see the worst of the worst. Patients are at their most vulnerable as they are recovering from surgery some having longer recovery roads than others. Despite the unfortunate hand most patients have been dealt, they have still maintained such a positive outlook on life and are extremely grateful to the nurses for their care. One patient in particular, who was blind since birth and diagnosed with cancer, taught me an invaluable lesson this summer. There is no use in dwelling on what you don’t have in life as there are so many things in your life to be thankful for, life itself.

I am truly blessed to have had this opportunity and appreciate how the Villanova College of Nursing has prepared me for this milestone in my life.




My Career Tip

I would recommend applying to externships all over and be willing to lean into discomfort. I applied to majority of externships on the east coast and the Mayo Clinic was the furthest externship I applied to. My mother encouraged me to apply to externships out of state because told me at what other time will you be able to go live somewhere else for 10 weeks and worst case scenario its only 10 weeks. The Mayo Clinic was a reach for me so I would encourage everyone to apply to externships that they do not think they will get because you never know. Taking a chance and moving out to Minnesota for 10 weeks taught me more about myself than I ever thought was possible. It also gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn from an incredible organization and nurses.