Methodist Hospitals internship program five Merrillville High students a taste of real world

Participants in Merrillville High School internship program at Methodist Hospitals are shown at a Gary Chamber of Commerce Luncheon: Briana Kikalos, intern, Indiana University, School of Public Health, from left; Charles Hughes, executive director, Gary Chamber of Commerce; LaTanya Woodson, community outreach manager; Erika Cooper, Merrillville High School student; Denise Dillard, chief of advocacy, government & external affairs; Raymond Grady, CEO & president, Methodist Hospitals; Deanetra Dixon, Merrillville High School Student; Chesley Primm, Merrillville High School student; and Ashton Anekwe, Merrillville High School student. This rotation was from Dec. 2, 2015-Feb. 22, 2016.

Are high school students ready to determine their career paths?

Sometimes, though there’s no rush to decide, says Denise Dillard, chief of advocacy, government and external affairs at Methodist Hospitals. She’s a consultant for a program that helps medically minded students zero in on what they want to do in the workplace.

The program between Methodist Hospitals and Merrillville High School gives four students at a time a 10-week hospital internship to see the opportunities in health care. Some of the interns reaffirm their career choice, while others find their true interest lies elsewhere in health care.

Interested students complete an application from their counselor, have parents sign a consent form, and bring those papers to Sharon Row, internship coordinator for Merrillville Community Schools. Row, who teaches computer science and college-level business classes, says candidates need a high GPA, three recommendations from staff teachers, and no infractions. Row interviews them to assesses their commitment.

“They’ve taken science and medical courses, so this is where their heart is. The ones who show the greatest passion are usually the ones selected,” said Row.

The program began 12 years ago, when Dillard developed a training program for students through school counselors. “Then Sharon Row wanted to have a richer experience for the students. She got the internship program certified so the students could receive academic credits for it,” says Dillard.

Dillard and LaTanya Woodson, Methodist community outreach manager, select four interns from among the students Row recommends.

After a year off, there is optimism the program will restart this school year at Methodist Southlake Hospital in Merrillville and at the hospital’s north campus in in Gary.

“But we’re still mapping that out,” says Dillard.

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“Some adjustments will be made to the schedule," Woodson explains. "It was three hours a day Monday through Friday but will probably be condensed for hospital staffing purposes. But the program will have the same look and feel.”

“The hours students complete have to be enough for a semester credit,” says Dillard.

Woodson schedules students to meet with staff throughout the hospital:  nurses, physicians, food services workers, the breast cancer center, even janitorial services. Students need to understand that every department plays an important role in maintaining high quality and efficient care for all patients, says Dillard.

“The staff has been receptive and open. They love the opportunity to speak with the students because they know this is our workforce of tomorrow.” says Woodson.

Students cannot touch patients, help them, look in on a surgery, or go into sensitive situations or areas, says Woodson.

“I’m very protective of my interns,” says Row. “I go to where they are two or three times a week, and once a week they tell me how it went. We want to be sure no one stumbles or gets frustrated.”

Dillard and Woodson also meet with students to process their experience.

Row sees students’ attitudes and confidence change. “It’s rewarding to see the growth, maturity, and professionalism that develop in 10 weeks and how it’s done with passion,” Row says. “When they first walk in my room, they’re as green as can be; after the internship they’re like a responsible 25-year-old.”

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