While many companies canceled summer internship opportunities in 2020 due to COVID-19, AdventHealth1 created a virtual experience that exposed interns to a wide array of leaders and opportunities.
Tanner Toay,2 a senior studying business administration at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, was disappointed when his summer internship with a healthcare system was canceled due to COVID-19. But when he heard from AdventHealth, a system of 50 hospitals that serves five million patients annually throughout the United States, and its offer of a virtual internship that would expose him to a wide breadth of healthcare knowledge, he jumped at the chance. “A lot of the people I know had their internships canceled,” he said. “AdventHealth was the first one to really offer a solid program.”
The summer internship program at AdventHealth is not new. For many years, it has offered as many as 50 to 55 undergraduates from Adventist colleges and universities an opportunity to become embedded within the organization in areas ranging from finance and accounting to nursing, IT, and marketing. These final 50 or so students, from a pool of more than 300 applicants, are offered paid internship positions at US$15 an hour for approximately seven hours a day for six weeks. Through the program, they are assigned projects, paired with executive mentors and preceptors, and take part in a variety of social and spiritual events. The limitations imposed by COVID-19, however, made it difficult for the program to proceed in its usual format, so it became necessary to replace the usual travel and accommodations with virtual access.
According to a recent survey, 35 percent of 900 U.S. college students had their internships canceled because of the pandemic.3 With many students missing out on key opportunities to develop future careers during the summer, a few companies pivoted from an in-person to a virtual curriculum. AdventHealth leaders were determined to find the right solution for their company while keeping two considerations in mind: how to ensure the safety of the interns, staff, and preceptors, and how to fulfill the promise that had been made to the interns. Ultimately, the decision to proceed in a virtual format was driven by the health system’s key values and made at the very top by President and CEO Terry Shaw, who felt the organization had made a moral commitment to its interns.
To ensure the interns’ safety and education needs once the decision was made, AdventHealth abridged its internship program from 12 weeks to six weeks and went entirely digital. The program launched June 22, 2020, and concluded July 31, 2020.
“It felt a bit more like a television production,” said Ken Bradley, director of the emerging leaders program at AdventHealth’s Leadership Institute, describing the changes made to facilitate the virtual internship program. “The quality of the work was incredible.”
Technology naturally played a major role in the pivot. To facilitate the new format, the Leadership Institute’s team underwent online training sponsored by Franklin Covey, a global provider of leadership training and consulting, and set up a production team with a daily producer, a consistent “on-air” host, and staff coordinators who monitored the open chat feed, as well as a private chat that allowed for real-time production adjustments. At the end of each day, the team met to review their successes and opportunities for improvement to ensure they were adequately prepared for the next session. In the end, they found that the digital tools made it easy to connect the interns to their daily meetings and projects and to one another.
“I think something that’s really unique with virtual internships is the ability to quickly break out into groups,” Toay said of his experience. “If you tried to do that in person, it’d be just chaos. It’d be like musical chairs.”
The 55 young adult interns were evenly split in terms of gender, represented 12 education institutions and 42 majors, and had an average GPA of 3.5. About half, 55 percent, were juniors in college, 14 percent were seniors, 4 percent were graduates, and 2 percent were freshman. As a group, they listened to daily devotions, presentations, and leadership lessons from AdventHealth clinicians and leaders via a Zoom meeting and were placed by the proctor into virtual “breakout rooms” where they grappled with questions posed by the guest speakers.
Ted Hamilton, MD, chief mission-integration officer for AdventHealth, referred to the company’s mission statement “Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ” when he spoke during one Thursday morning meeting. “Patient care does not demand that we have a mission and ministry,” he said during the call. “So, why do we do this?” The interns were then placed into virtual groups where they discussed possible answers.
Bradley said that thanks to the ease-of-use of virtual meetings, many executives were able to provide an hour of their time to speak to the interns. That included Mark Hertling, a physician leadership consultant for AdventHealth and former commanding general of the U.S. Army, and Jeffrey Kuhlman, MD, AdventHealth senior vice president of clinical quality and patient safety, and former White House physician.
Toay said he loved the exposure. In addition to their seminars, he and the other interns paired up with one another to interview leaders across the system about the company’s response to COVID-19. Called Project Insight, the endeavor was tasked to the interns by Shaw. “I liked the openness of the project,” Toay said. “Because executives’ feedback was collected anonymously, I feel that as an intern you got to hear candidly.”
As part of their self-led work, the interns managed their own time to complete online training courses, take virtual tours, participate in résumé reviews and mock interviews with AdventHealth’s talent acquisition team, and to develop personal video submissions and a group presentation to be showcased during the annual intern expo (see Box 1 for an example of the schedule of activities during week one).
At the end of the six weeks, each participant was evaluated by his or her assigned preceptor and/or resident advisor in a discussion covering ways the intern brought value to the company and department, and areas that could be improved upon. In turn, feedback received from the interns—in the form of both survey and anecdotal evaluations—helped the Leadership Institute team assess the program’s effectiveness. Organizers found that:
One hundred percent of the interns believed the virtual internship had helped to develop them as leaders;
Ninety-eight percent believed they had acquired the necessary capabilities to contribute to AdventHealth’s mission, and;
Ninety-two percent were interested in a career with the organization—an especially promising statistic, as one of the key metrics for AdventHealth’s summer internship program is the number of future and permanent hires it produces.
The AdventHealth summer internship program aims to answer three questions for its interns: Is the healthcare field right for them? Is AdventHealth the right employer for them? And if it is, in what area of healthcare would they like to work? These questions are discussed with interns throughout the program, as they are exposed to real-world experiences and meet with top leaders, and then answered during the final interview with their preceptor.
Toay, who was embedded in a finance project as part of his internship, said he learned how AdventHealth, at every turn, goes back to its mission of Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ in its decision-making. “I think I’m very much leaning toward, ‘I would like to work for AdventHealth,’” he said.
Jason Ruiter and Ingrid Hernandez, “AdventHealth Virtual Internship During the Pandemic Brings Its Own Benefits,” The Journal of Adventist Education 82:4 (2020): 30-33.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- With a sacred mission of Extending the healing ministry of Christ, AdventHealth is a connected system of care for every stage of life and health. More than 80,000 skilled and compassionate caregivers in physician practices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, and hospice centers provide individualized, wholistic care. A shared vision, common values, focus on whole-person health and commitment to making communities healthier unify the system's 50 hospital campuses and hundreds of care sites in diverse markets throughout almost a dozen states in the U.S. For more information about AdventHealth, visit AdventHealth.com, or Facebook.com/AdventHealth; Staff, “100 of the Largest Hospitals and Health Systems in America,” Becker’s Hospital Review (2020): https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/lists/100-of-the-largest-hospitals-and-health-systems-in-america-2020.html.
- Names used with permission.
- Yello, a recruitment solutions company, partnered with SurveyMonkey to survey 913 current college students in the United States. The survey was conducted from April 10-15, 2020. For more, see Jason Weingarten and Dan Bartfield, “Virtual Internship Statistics and Trends: A 2020 COVID-19 Impact Report,” Yello (2020): https://yello.co/blog/virtual-internship-statistics/.