Yearlong Internship at Reading Hospital Benefits Both Students and Hospital Alike
For eight to 10 Berks County high school seniors, weekday afternoons consist not of classes but of “work” at Reading Hospital.
These industrious students are part of a one-of-a-kind high school internship program in its fourth year at the hospital. The program enables these students to gain work experience in a healthcare setting and to advance their professional skills and life skills through monthly seminars.
Students interact closely with staff who serve as mentors, contacts and references throughout the internship and who often guide the students’ educational and career paths after the completion of their internship.
“As much as they learn about healthcare careers, they also learn soft skills such as what it’s like to have a job and how to interact with co-workers,” says Desha Dickson, Director of Community Health and Engagement, Reading Hospital, and the individual who developed the program.
Now in its fourth school year, the program — which is funded with grants from Santander Bank and a Reading based business — offers internships in both clinical and non-clinical settings.
The students, who travel from their school to the hospital either by bus or by car, spend every Monday through Friday, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the hospital. This year, there are five students are from Wilson High School and four students from Reading Senior High School.
In addition to their daily internship, they attend workshops that cover topics such as how budget for college, how to balance a checkbook, and even the proper etiquette for meals with co-workers or clients.
The students are onboarded like all hospital employees and are expected to wear uniforms, have their employee badges with them at all times, and clock in and out just like their co-workers do.
To date, 30 students have gone through the program, and three former interns now work at the hospital. One of these employees is also studying nursing at Reading Hospital School of Health Sciences.
Every January, an “interest meeting” is held for prospective interns, and the current interns create presentations to describe the responsibilities and expectations that come with the position.
“The interest meeting is peer to peer,” Dickson says. “It elevates our current interns, and it gives prospective interns an accurate picture of what’s involved.”
Approximately 60 to 80 students attend the interest meeting. Interns must have enough credits to leave school every afternoon and also must have a stellar disciplinary record. About 20 students are interviewed, and four or five from each of the two high schools are chosen to participate.
“This helps give the students a head start,” Dickson notes. “It’s a resume builder to say you were an intern for a year at a hospital.”
“It also gives the students an idea of what it is like to work in a professional environment,” she adds. “They may decide they don’t want that particular kind of work, and that’s OK, because they’re making an informed decision. The benefit is that they learn what’s out there and what they like or don’t like.”
The internship program is an investment the staff and hospital believe in. The departments who have interns working with them train them and guide them throughout the year.
“It demonstrates our commitment to this community and our young people,” Dickson says. “Additionally, we are committed to increasing diversity and offering opportunities to all at Reading Hospital, and this program is one way we can achieve that goal.”
The interns start the first week of September with a weeklong orientation to get to know each other and to attend introductory workshops, and they are in their positions at the hospital until near the end of the school year.
“I see a complete maturation in every intern from September to the end of the school year,” Dickson says. “They have more confidence and are more assertive. I see a change in attitude and how they carry themselves, and that is very gratifying for me and employees to witness. The interns work hard, and we are very proud of everything they accomplish.”