The Bridge - The internship investment

Messiah helps students gain real-world experience

After clocking in at the hospital, Ben Curtz ’21 grabs a computer cart with a laptop and heads out to the emergency department floor of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He preps medical charts, sees patients and takes medical histories. He’s not a doctor. He’s an intern.

The biochemistry major works as an emergency department medical scribe for ScribeAmerica, a company that helps medical centers assist in documentation.

Man stands in front of Penn State Hershey Hospital smiling

“Through this, the workload of a doctor is greatly decreased,” explained Curtz, “as they can spend anywhere from four to six hours outside of work continuing to chart patient visits. In addition, it provides great exposure for pre-medical students to medical terminology and the general hospital environment.”

A typical eight-hour shift can involve following a doctor into the exam room to see the patient, at which point Curtz takes the medical history, the reason for the visit, symptoms and other relevant information. Upon exiting the room, the doctor will then give the results of the physical exam to Curtz and let him know about any tests or radiology processes the patient will need. This process repeats multiple times over the course of the shift.

“Most doctors are even kind enough to walk you through their thought processes in diagnosing patients,” he said, “which helps you relate the things you are seeing in the patient room to the physiological and anatomical basis behind the symptoms and complaints.”

Setting the vision

The Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) at Messiah serves as the liaison between employers and students for internships. (Clinicals and practica are different than internships and monitored through individual academic departments.). While the office doesn’t place students in internships, it does help with the process.

 “While the employer ultimately decides which interns they want to hire, the CPDC assists students in finding potential sites and preparing their application materials,” said Christy Hanson, associate dean of career and professional development.

“Ultimately, an internship should be mutually beneficial to the student and the employer, but it’s first and foremost a learning and professional development experience for the student,” said Hanson, “so there are some unique expectations of a supervisor of an intern. In reality, it’s a lot of work to have an intern. We are very appreciative of our supervisors who take it seriously.”

Three students sitting at a table on their laptops

 More than one supervisor

 In addition to working at their internship, Messiah students who   choose the credit-bearing option take a class through the CPDC   with internship supervisors Joy Fea, coordinator of faculty   partnerships, and Orlando Williams, coordinator of internships and   multicultural student programs.

 “It’s all geared toward helping them increase their profile, their   skills, helping them present themselves well,” said Williams.

 Through an online course, students complete orientation,   assignments, readings and reflections that focus on their   professional development. They also check in with their career   center supervisors twice in person during the course of the   internship. At the end of the course, students present an executive   summary of what they’ve learned. Any credit-bearing internship   through the career center also satisfies the Experiential Learning   Initiative (ELI) requirement, which each student needs to graduate.

The idea is that through the online course coupled with an internship, the student develops a brand—which has nothing to do with being an Instagram influencer or a giving a sales pitch. It’s more about clarifying career interests, honing workplace skills and developing a professional network.

Through the internship and corresponding course, students are challenged to consider their professional brand. “We want students to represent themselves and their interests in a clear and compelling way to their professional network,” said Fea. “Clarity on one’s professional brand helps those in a student’s network to provide targeted assistance. If a student says, ‘I’m interested in actuarial science,’ someone could say, ‘My sister-in-law does that. I’ll give you her number.’ People want to help, but their ability to do so depends on a student’s ability to articulate his or her interests and skills.

Two men talking at a table

More than one internship

In today’s competitive workforce, employers are looking for a depth and breadth of experience. So, that can mean more than one internship.

“We recommend students think about how they might be able to fit one or more internships into the academic year or their summers,” said Hanson. “If they start early enough, students have the opportunity to do more than one, which allows exposure to multiple workplaces while adding experiences to their resume. They have the flexibility to earn between 1-12 academic credits by completing experiences ranging from 40-480 hours.”

For example, a one-credit internship—which is only 40 hours during the course of a whole summer—could be completed while also working at a part-time summer job.

Of course, if you find your niche, you can intern at the same place more than once. So far, Curtz has spent one fall semester and one summer working as a medical scribe, and he’s continuing the internship for the current spring semester.

“To say the least, the experience has been both inspiring and informational,” he said. “You have to innately enjoy what you are doing and be able to tell yourself why you come in every day. To be able to put aside all your worries, all the stuff you have to put up with, that’s when you can really help someone.”

Becoming employable

According to NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), internships consistently rank at the top of employers’ wish lists.

“The reality is, most employers don’t have time once they on-board somebody to teach the basics,” said Hanson. “They want somebody coming in already knowing how to craft a professional email, already knowing the basics of how to communicate interpersonally, how to think creatively or critically or have a difficult conversation. So, internships are a way for students to hone those skills so they’re not coming in completely cold.”

Internships in multiple venues help students see what their career field—and how they want to perform within it—can look like in a variety of settings, such as the difference between nonprofit and for-profit.

“For example, what is the difference in doing marketing in higher education vs. a marketing firm?” Hanson asked. “Students can compare and develop skillsets to match.  They become incredibly marketable with varied internship experience.”

The value of hiring a Messiah student is not lost on the employers who partner with the CPDC. Just ask Ben Curtz’s supervisor.

“We have five Messiah students working as scribes currently, all of whom are exemplary employees and great leaders within our team,” said Julia Hasircoglu, chief scribe at Hershey Medical Center.

Finding your calling

In addition to providing a student with real-world experience, an internship can help a student determine his calling. Curtz plans to attend medical school after he graduates in May.

“This internship has exposed me to the wonderful world of medicine,” said Curtz. “It has also given me a dose of reality. Medicine is hard. Long hours, stressed-out providers and sometimes irritable patients can really put a damper on a visit. But doctor after doctor has said to me, ‘It’s not about the money. If you’re in it for the money only, then get out. There are better and faster ways to make money in the world.’ Although the work is overwhelming, you can be confident that you are making a real difference in the lives of patients.”