Healthcare Student Internship Programs: 4 Best Practices for Winning Partnerships
Internships are vital for preparing young healthcare professionals for the challenges they’ll face in the industry. Partnerships between academic institutions and healthcare organizations can give students the internships they need to get real-world experience in a learning environment while helping healthcare organizations develop a talent pipeline, but they take a lot of effort on both sides.
“The best internships are the ones that are a two-way street,” says Kathryn DeCecco, Director of Experiential Opportunities at Niagara University. Students need productive and meaningful work, and employers need to be able to rely on interns to contribute to the organization. “These are the best-case scenarios that can lead to mentor relationships and even future employment,” she says.
Here are several best practices to make healthcare student internships a win for everyone involved.
Set Clear, Reachable Goals
One of the best ways to make an internship a success is to treat it like a full-time permanent job, and that includes setting goals for the position. Each partner should establish parameters for what success looks like for the intern, such as completing a project or learning new skills. Agreeing on goals before the internship starts makes success measurable.
Those goals may vary by department, position or even year. “Our internship program is based on needs,” says Bal Agrawal, Chief Executive Officer of Lifeworx, a home health company. “It depends on projects and supervisors who are interested in having someone work for them, and their willingness to spend time. We always have few specific projects in mind, and when we interview, we share the project list with interns and seek their interests.” Once those are set, interns and projects can be matched for fit.
Communicate Frequently with Interns and Mentors
Bringing on new people in any organization calls for clear and regular communication to keep progress on track. Check in with interns and mentors regularly to assess how things are going and address problems before they get out of hand. Each partner should establish a point person who is available to connect with the other whenever necessary.
“A clear red flag is when the intern has nothing to do,” says Nancy Halpern, Principal with KNH Associates and executive coach for industries including healthcare. This often happens when the internship hasn’t been planned effectively, she says, but occasionally a motivated or highly skilled intern may move through projects more quickly than expected. Regular check-ins and feedback to and from interns and mentors can catch things like excessive down time early on, at which point mentors can identify gaps in the internship or establish new, ongoing goals.
Review the Results Together
Once the internship is completed, solicit feedback from interns, mentors and peers to see what everyone learned. Members of the employer as well as the intern’s educational organization also should meet to determine whether goals were met and standards were upheld. Is the academic institution supplying strong students for internships? Does the healthcare organization offer a rigorous, useful program for interns?
Agrawal says Lifeworx conducts follow-up meetings to help ensure feedback loops are closed when an internship is finished. Surveys, tests and feedback sessions can help determine what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved for the next round.
Adapt Your Internship Program to Industry Changes
Healthcare is changing quickly, so programs that prepare soon-to-be graduates must be nimble and responsive. Just because you’ve offered a program one year doesn’t mean it will still be useful or relevant the next year. Lifeworx adjusts its programs every year based on the needs and projects available in the organization, Agrawal says.
Revisit your programs and partnerships frequently to provide top-of-the-line internships that garner high-potential interns. Halpern suggests working with your academic partners to ensure you’re getting interns who are interested in your industry or field, and use the feedback from past interns to shape future opportunities.
Internships are a great way to build relationships between organizations and establish a talent pipeline for the future. By setting clear goals and communicating frequently, healthcare organizations and academic institutions alike can help build a strong healthcare workforce for the future.