Steps for Success

Student intern at health departmentThe most successful internship programs match student interests and experience with program needs. The skills required for the internship and areas in which the student hopes to grow should also be considered. At the beginning of an internship, student requirements (capstone and practicum) should be reviewed, and taken into consideration while forming the workplan. The workplan should detail project timelines, goals, and activities that the student is expected to work on during their internship. Having a clearly defined workplan is the most important element of a successful internship.

At the most basic level, a workspace, including a computer, access to an email account, and a phone, should be provided for interns. At the beginning of the program, interns should also be briefed on the department layout, computer network, parking, and given a tour to become familiar with the building and meet staff. This will help the student connect with staff members and feel more at ease within the department. Other preparatory steps may depend on the program area. For instance, interns working in epidemiology or mapping projects may need access to software such as SAS and GIS. Interns working in communications might benefit from websites, guidebooks, or blogs. Funded internships programs or interns brought on as LTEs may entail official onboarding procedures.

Integration into the department or project staff is also critical to the success of an internship. Students should be exposed to and receive feedback from a wide variety of staff, not solely their supervisor. This will make students aware of a wide variety of program areas and help them narrow their own interests. Funded internship programs can further this effort by onboarding interns like normal employees. More developed programs that place an emphasis on student growth may provide a mentor within the organization who is separate from the intern's supervisor. Mentors help interns feel more comfortable and gives them an alternative space for questions, general discussions, and networking. Since building a professional network is an important part of most internships, providing opportunities to students to connect with professionals both inside and outside the health department is valuable to the student and the success of their projects. Students can also connect with other interns to foster peer networking opportunities, and if the department offers professional development trainings and/or resources, interns should be included to further their own individual experience and further integrate them into the team.   

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