Sanford Health’s internship program reaches record numbers

While Sanford Health's internship program started with a focus on nurses, it has since expanded to include nonclinical areas.

Ashley Lopez de Nava and nursing preceptors

What started 20 years ago at Sanford Health as an internship program to recruit and train nurses has expanded to include hundreds of students from other academic majors like business and technology because of the growing demand for workers in those areas.

This year’s record number of interns included 198 clinical interns who worked directly with nurses and 543 nonclinical interns at various Sanford Health locations in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Clinical internships

Because of the high demand for registered nurses, Sanford Health wants to develop relationships early with students who may be interested in helping to fill that need. The 10-week nursing internship allows students to gain experience and skill within actual patient care situations, clinical simulation and classroom situations and helps nursing students find an area of practice that best fits their career goals, talents and interests.

Students are assigned an RN preceptor to serve as a personal clinical coach and work full-time, including nights, weekends, holidays and 8-, 10- or 12-hour shifts following their designated preceptor’s schedule.

Internships provide opportunities for students to witness firsthand the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations that they may not always be exposed to during clinical rotations or in the classroom.

Sabrina DeBlaere, a senior nursing student at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, worked this summer in the emergency room at the Sanford Fargo Medical Center. She said her preceptors and the emergency room staff were eager to teach and willing to let students like DeBlaere step in and help with patients.

“I got the absolute best experience in learning and getting to practice my nursing skills,” DeBlaere said. “Not just technical skills, but also communication with patients in different situations. I learned so much more than I ever have in nursing school or clinical just being able to work in the ER day to day.”

In rural areas, nursing students are exposed to a broader range of areas in the hospital. Ashley Lopez de Nava, who interned at Sanford Health in Hillsboro, North Dakota, will complete her last semester of nursing school this fall at Minnesota State Community College in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

Throughout the summer, she worked in a variety of areas, including the emergency room, medical surgical floors and swing beds. She said her internship exposed her to the wide range of duties rural nurses take on daily.

“Because it’s a rural hospital, the nurses have to do a lot of things that sometimes the big hospital don’t have to. They’ll be doing respiratory therapy, then giving medications, and sometimes even acting as a social worker,” she said. “I got to see, ‘This is what I like, and this is what I don’t like.’ I had a great experience.”

Besides the practical experience of working in a real-life situation, clinical nursing internships help most students do better on tests that are required of them in their preparation for practice.

“Nurses who complete an internship are more likely to pass their licensure exam,” said Diana VanderWoude, senior executive director of Leadership, Learning and Development (LEAD) at Sanford Health.

Nonclinical internships

While Sanford Health’s internship program started with a focus on nurses, it has since expanded to include nonclinical areas.

The 12-week, paid Sanford Health nonclinical internships can be used to fulfill credit requirements and are offered in spring, summer and fall. The main goal is to attract students from other areas of study for a future in health care business and administration:

  • Administrative
  • Financial
  • Health information management
  • Marketing
  • Health Plan
  • Human resources
  • Information technology
  • Sanford Foundation
  • Profile by Sanford
  • Supply chain management

Ethan Walker spent the summer as an intern in supply chain management in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, working on strategic sourcing, process improvement and contract negotiation between Sanford Health and its suppliers and business partners.

“It really didn’t feel like I was just an intern,” Walker said. “My supervisor was great to work with and gave me the autonomy to take on some bigger projects on my own. I knew in the grand scheme of things what I had to get done, but overall the process was up to me.”

Walker is a student at the University of South Dakota, studying biology and economics with intentions to pursue a career in medicine, law or business. Through his internship with Sanford Health, he had the opportunity to interview doctors and work alongside attorneys and business professionals and has been able to gain insight on how those three specific disciplines operate within the health care industry.

“You get a much better understanding of what the careers are actually like other than just the visions we have of it when we’re in high school or college,” he said.

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