By Joie N. Marhefka, Ph.d
Biomedical engineering technology students at Penn State New Kensington are required to complete a 400-hour internship before graduating. As an educator, I work with students to set up internships in clinical engineering departments and communicate with the interns and their supervisors throughout the internship. Based on my experience, the following tips will help students get the most out of an internship experience and make a good impression, leading to a positive experience for the intern as well as their supervisor.
Tips for the intern
First and foremost, an internship is a learning process. Therefore, ask questions. If there is something in particular that you want to see or do, ask. If you are confused or don’t know how to do something, ask for clarification or assistance. If you finish one thing, ask what else you can do or see instead of looking at your phone and waiting for someone to tell you something else to do. Go along on any service call that you can and don’t say “no” if you are offered an opportunity to see, do or learn something new. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes and, remember, an internship is meant to be a learning experience. Also, I’d recommend keeping a notebook to record things that you do and learn. This will help you remember what you have done and can come in handy later. It can help you prepare for an interview, and can be used the next time you need to fix a similar device or problem.
Another important thing to remember during an internship is that, in many cases, your internship can lead to a job. If it does not lead directly to a job in that department, your supervisor and coworkers will be valuable references when job searching. Therefore, it is important to make a good impression. Be on time. Stay awake and attentive during meetings. Be aware of your role and surroundings. Communication is very important. Learn how to write a professional email and make sure to respond to emails in a timely manner. Talk with everyone in the department, as well as those in other departments. Building relationships will be helpful in getting a job and will make doing the job easier.
Tips for the supervisor (and coworkers)
I realize that supervising an intern requires time and effort from the supervisor and staff as they are educating the intern. However, there are a number of things that the supervisor or hospital can do to help make an internship successful. Provide thoughtful answers to an intern’s questions. When possible, ask the intern you are supervising (or the intern working in your shop) to accompany you on service calls and explain what you are doing. Giving the intern a chance to see and do as many different things as possible (as opposed to spending their entire internship working on pumps) will best prepare them for working in the field (and possibly in your department). It will also keep them engaged. Remember that the intern is there to learn, not provide free or cheap labor.
While this may be the decision of hospital administration and based on budget, a paid internship provides benefits to the supervisor as well as to the intern. Offering a paid internship will reduce the likelihood that the intern will have to work another job in the hours when he or she is not at the internship. This is not always in the budget, but when possible it will allow the intern to be more flexible with hours, providing the opportunity to see or do things that do not occur during the intern’s typical shift. This also makes scheduling easier on the part of the supervisor. The intern will likely be more engaged and often more energetic as he or she does not have to fit in a job along with the internship, and it will help to attract the best candidates for the internship. Finally, paying an intern allows for the supervisor to give the intern assignments that are beneficial to the department – rather than strictly focusing on learning activities – making it easier to integrate the intern into the department’s normal daily activities.
Whether you are an intern, a supervisor or a biomed in a department that has an intern, keeping these things in mind will help make the internship a great and productive experience for everyone.
Joie N. Marhefka, Ph.D., is the Biomedical Engineering Technology Program Coordinator at Penn State New Kensington.
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