Winter Haven Hospital, Polk State College Partner for Faculty Externship Program

November 22, 2023
From left: Winter Haven Hospital nursing education team member Elaine Bernard and director of Nursing Development and Practice for the Polk Region Lisa Schlagel instruct nursing students in a classroom at Winter Haven Hospital.


It had been a long time since Polk State College nursing professors Jillian Capper and Sara Triplett played the role of student. 

But this summer at Winter Haven Hospital, that was what they became, and it was by design. Triplett was able to observe a revolutionary robotics surgery that was relatively rare when she was a practicing nurse. Capper, who has been away from the bedside since 2017, learned that something as second-nature to a nurse as submitting paperwork had changed quite a bit since her nursing days. 

They were members of the first-ever faculty externship program, where instructors at Polk State College had an opportunity to spend the summer on the units at BayCare’s Winter Haven Women’s Hospital (WHWH). The program was created this year so that faculty could bring their experiences in the hospital setting back to the classroom. 

The externship lasts for three to five weeks. BayCare’s education department and Polk State College’s dean’s office reviewed applications and chose the externs. 

“The opportunity to participate in this externship with BayCare has given me the ability to be more up to date with what I’m teaching our students,” Triplett said. 

Capper said that the concept for the program was something she’d worked on as a participant of Polk State’s President’s Leadership Institute, which helps develop leadership skills and talents among staff. Part of the program involved coming up with a project to champion. 

“It’s been a longtime passion of mine to try to get back in the hospital setting because I think it would keep me more current as a nurse to the students,” she said. She worked with the school leadership to bring the program to BayCare.

Lisa Schlagel, director of nursing development and practice for the Polk region at BayCare, is actively involved in leveraging partnerships with educational partners to increase the ranks of nursing professionals in the area. Along with Polk Chief Nursing Officer Kristen Smith and Jackie Munro, the health system’s vice president of nursing systems and resources, Schlagel worked with Polk State officials to create the externship program. 

Two women stand in front of a classroom of nursing students.
Sara Triplett, BayCare nursing extern and Polk State College professor, works with a nursing student as she practices swaddling a doll baby.


“Our hospitals have benefited from our academic colleagues working very hard to produce extraordinary nurses,” Schlagel said. “So we wanted to do something that would also be valuable to them, which is where this externship program was really born.”

The externship program is the first such effort in BayCare.

The program was originally slated to begin next summer, but Schlagel and the nursing team worked hard with Polk State College to launch the program sooner. They also got a key assist from a third partner, the Winter Haven Hospital Foundation, which donated $33,000 to fully fund the program.

Capper and Triplett were slated to spend their externship at WHWH but were able to take advantage of the entire Winter Haven Hospital campus. 

“I was able to see women’s services performed outside of our regular OB world,” Triplett noted. “I was able to get to observe a robotic hysterectomy this summer, which is a newer procedure. A hysterectomy is normally a very invasive procedure, but with robotics, it’s less so. Our patients are able to go home sooner and have less risk of infection. This is invaluable information to be able to bring to our student body to explain how technology plays a role at the bedside.”

For Capper, who spent much of her nursing career at Winter Haven Women’s, the return to the bedside reminded her how rewarding a career in nursing is. 

“During the externship, I spent time back on the labor and delivery unit, and was able to assist a mom who was in labor. After the baby was born, the patient said to us, ‘I couldn’t have done this without you.’ And for me, that made me feel like a nurse again and bringing that love to the classroom is invaluable.”

She also got a look at how even the most basic things. like signing paperwork, have evolved since her time in a hospital setting.

“Well, it’s not paper anymore,” Capper laughed. “A lot of it is electronic scanning now. For our nurses coming up in the classroom, this is information they need, and will make it easier for them to transition to the bedside when they graduate.”

Schlagel said that although the two were based at the Women’s Hospital, they were able to customize the externship to their interests, a feature that will continue as the program moves forward. 

“For example, if our externs teach medication administration, we can allow them to spend time with our pharmacy team, learning everything from start to finish that they’d want to know about medications,” she said. “We want to make sure they get whatever they need from this experience to take back to our future nurses.”
The overarching lesson the program taught its participants was the very thing they came to document. 

“We teach our students from Day One that change is inevitable,” said Triplett. “It’s going to happen. So going to the hospital setting gives me the ability to tell stories about what I’ve seen and how nurses on the units are adapting to these changes. And we can let our students know about the expectations the hospitals in our county are requiring or expecting of a new grad.”