In the summer of 2017, my colleague at the Leadership Center for Nursing Education Research, Dr. Susan Mills, and I conducted an in-depth program evaluation of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation (IBC Foundation) Nursing Internship Program. This evaluation involved extensive direct observations of program activities and interviews with the interns, their supervisors, and IBC Foundation staff, among other activities. Our findings illustrate the uniqueness of the Nursing Internship Program and the impact the program has on its participants.
The traditional purpose of an internship program is to provide interns with real-world work experiences they might not otherwise get while studying for their degree. There are relatively few true nursing internship programs in the United States because nursing education programs build into their curricula many real-world clinical experiences, often requiring students to spend 1,000 hours or more in clinical settings before graduation. So, any summer internship program for nursing students must offer something different than what students already have access to in their formal degree programs.
The IBC Foundation Nursing Internship Program offers nursing students the unique opportunity to explore nursing roles outside the more traditional, acute care settings in which most nurses work1. Internship sites range from community health clinics in neighborhoods with limited access to care, to internship sites focusing on the administrative aspects of health care delivery. The Nursing Internship Program is highly unique because it focuses specifically on the important roles nurses can play outside traditional hospital settings.
A second unique feature of the Nursing Internship Program is its focus on leadership development. Over the course of the summer months, interns participate in several days of leadership and professional role development programming. These Leadership Labs offer interns the opportunity to learn about cultural and generational diversity in the workplace, the importance of professional networking, public speaking, and mentoring, among a variety of other topics. Interns even participate in volunteer experiences in the downtown Philadelphia area, illustrating the importance of community service and social responsibility. As a result, the Nursing Internship Program provides opportunities that help interns develop and demonstrate leadership skills in real-world settings in ways that are complementary to the types of leadership experiences most pre-licensure nursing students receive in their nursing education programs.
A Unique Impact
The 2017 Nursing Internship Program interns reported a variety of transformative and rewarding experiences throughout the ten-week program. For example, though many interns reported that they had some clinical experiences in community clinic settings, for many of them, working full-time in these settings for the entire summer gave them a deep understanding of the clinic’s role in the community and the clients served by the clinic. This level of understanding is one that simply cannot be achieved during a brief rotation through the clinic site. Interns were able to work with their site supervisors on projects ranging from organizing health education for clinic clients to developing strategies to improve pediatric immunization rates in some clinics.
For those interns working in health care administrative settings, they were able to see how nurses worked behind the scenes to keep patients with multiple chronic illnesses from being re-hospitalized by offering education, advice, and health counseling over the phone. Another intern worked in a department that focused on health care analytics, and learned how “big data” can be used to improve health and wellness. For example, examining trends in the data may help identify that an appropriate health intervention is needed.
On the Forefront of Change
The purpose, design, and outcomes achieved by the IBC Foundation Nursing Internship Program make it a one-of-a-kind, leading-edge program that nursing students in the Philadelphia area are extremely fortunate to have available to them. As the U.S. health care system continues its shift to community-based, preventive, person-centered care, programs like the IBC Foundation Nursing Internship Program are clearly at the forefront of these changes, providing nursing student interns with a glimpse of this future health care system, and the essential role that nurses will play in improving the health of their communities.