When the up-and-coming summer internship program was outlined five years ago, its creators did not have a typical internship in mind. Rosalind Strickland, senior director of the Office of Civic Education Initiatives, decided that in this program, the terms "shadowing" and "observation" would be secondary; these students would be given the opportunity to do. She wanted to "underscore the importance of science, math, health and wellness, the arts, and innovation," in addition to "preparing students for learning and working in the 21st century," she says.
In 2005, the program remained under the umbrella of "Science." The Nursing Program was added the year after, providing interns with two concrete choices. The Creative Learning Internship Program was implemented in 2007, and it offered interns a whole new path to learn science – creative work in a medical setting. "The program," according to its designer, Bryan Pflaum, "gives students the opportunity to advance Cleveland Clinic's mission by working alongside creative healthcare professionals in areas such as media production, web design, and writing." The following year, the Medical Lab, Pharmacy, Radiology and Respiratory Therapy Internship Programs were added to the mix, providing students with much more specialized options.
As the program itself has grown, so have the accomplishments of the students involved. "The program has far exceeded my expectations," says Strickland, "from the student growth and knowledge gained during the summer to the sharing of groundbreaking research across numerous disciplines throughout the academic year."
While they are at Cleveland Clinic, interns complete comprehensive research projects. "The research in which students are involved is specifically designed not only to expand their own knowledge, skill level and career experiences, but also to contribute to the vision and values of Cleveland Clinic. The research projects leave valuable and implementable data and findings behind at the end of the summer," says Nedra Starling, Instructional Designer, Office of Civic Education Initiatives. "Their work is of value and is recognized as such in the departments they leave at the summer's end."
From sharing their research with their peers at school to dispersing it throughout the country, interns have taken their experiences and spread them far beyond Cleveland Clinic. "The program has opened many doors for interns," says Strickland. Among these are the chance to present their research nationally and internationally; the collective awarding of more than $17 million in college scholarships; the publication of research in peer-reviewed medical journals; and the opportunity to become members of professional societies that are normally offered only to medical professionals.
The program has far exceeded my expectations... It has opened many doors for interns.
"Students emerge from the program more focused, confident in their skills and future careers, and with a new self-awareness regarding their own talents and potential," says Strickland.
This renewed focus comes as a result of not just what the interns have observed, but the experience they have gained through conducting their individual research. "The interns' increased knowledge and skills, and their specific research projects, have parlayed into exciting opportunities for them, providing them with even more motivation and focus in the health care direction of their choice," says Starling.
The high school internship program at Cleveland Clinic is unique, and others are beginning to take notice. "My goal was to create a national model for high school internships," says Strickland. "The fact that students from other states and countries have taken an interest in what we are doing speaks volumes about our program."