The best way for students to find an internship in a healthcare field is to blend Web search savvy with old-fashioned relationship building.
Students have a wider range of careers in health care than ever before as new opportunities emerge in pet healthcare, drugstore-based clinics, electronic prescriptions and medical records, and specialty injection and infusion treatments performed in people's homes.
Healthcare on the Upswing
Indeed, the healthcare industry is expected to create more jobs and pay higher wages than any other field in the next decade. Health care is expected to generate three million new jobs by 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Tom Callanan, a 22-year-old senior at Elmhurst College, is gaining experience in his second job since high school in physical therapy.
Callanan became interested in physical therapy after he tore up his knee playing football his freshman year in high school, and threw out his shoulder while playing baseball during sophomore year.
He started asking his physical therapist questions about the business, and ended up observing orthopedic therapy at the therapist's self-owned business for 35 to 40 hours a week.
Callanan then worked at Physico Sports & Rehab Services, a division of Elmhurst Orthopedics, where he helped patients who had had orthopedic surgery. Now Callanan is starting an internship in pediatric rehabilitation at the Pediatric Place in LaGrange, Ill.
"For the past two years, my days have been from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. either in class or at work," Callanan says. "It forces me to spend my time well. I find myself waking up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning just to do homework. I think this is good experience before I start physical therapy school," Callanan says.
He also relies on the Web site of professional physical therapists, the American Physical Therapy Association.
Amanda Bidlencik, corporate manager of pharmacy relations for Walgreen Co.'s Recruitment and Diversity Services Department, says students interested in health care should ask questions of their local pharmacist, doctor and nurse. "Ask what they do every day, and find out how they got to be where they are now," she says.
Bidlencik recommends that students check out the National Association of Chain Drug Stores under the heading "Pharmacy" to find information about pharmacy schools, scholarships and internships.
Walgreen Co. also offers pharmacy students internships at its in-store pharmacies and at its pharmacies inside medical centers. Students can look through the Walgreens Web site under "Career Opportunities." Walgreen Co. also provides scholarships that start at $1,500 to students enrolled in pharmacy school and who work at a Walgreens drugstore.
Technology and Healthcare: Together at Last
"The entire United States healthcare delivery system is undergoing a transformation," says Scott Kornhauser, CEO of Healthation, a Darien, Ill.-based software company whose system processes medical claims between healthcare providers and insurance companies.
"Healthcare is finally moving into the 21st Century of computing. It's the largest and the last major industry to do so," Kornhauser says.
"The transformation is happening in each part of health care -- electronic health care, insurance claims processing, and computer upgrades and computer interoperability for doctors, dentists and hospitals," he says. Only 10 percent of doctors' desktop computers store electronic medical records, so that's a huge growth area, Kornhauser says.
"There are hundreds, if not thousands of companies scrambling for their turf in this new world, seeking to put electronic medical records and other systems into the health providers' offices," he says. "That is an industry on fire right now."
Companies need not only computer programmers, but also those who understand healthcare, Kornhauser says. Healthcare also is being transformed by the trend to make patients take greater responsibility for their health and how they spend money for health care.
"There is a whole new wave of opportunity for subject-matter experts on everything from healthcare funding (economics and accounting) to best practices (clinical experience) to bringing new guidelines to the front lines of medicine," Kornhauser says.
Other areas in demand include nurses, dental hygienists, pharmacy technicians, cardiology technologists and respiratory therapists.
Healthcare Internship Opportunities Abound... If You Know Where to Look
Healthation hires interns to do market research to find out about prospective clients such as insurance companies. They research the kinds of computer systems the insurance companies use, the products they deliver and the individuals they insure.
Kornhauser recommends that students searching for internships review the Web sites of major trade associations, including the Health Information Management Systems Society and the American Health Insurance Plans, and government agency Web sites such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Trudy Steinfeld, executive director of the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University, urges students to think outside the box about health care internships. "We've had students work at WebMD," she says, referring to the healthcare Web portal. "Many Internet companies are looking for students with science backgrounds."
Similarly, textbook publishers want students schooled in science and medicine to ensure accuracy in publications, such as instructions on how to take a new drug or manuals on robotic medical procedures. "Don't rule out pet healthcare. That's a huge, growing industry," she says. One of the fastest-growing Web sites regarding pet health is PetRx, which sells pet medications.
Steinfeld also recommends students research careers on professional association Web sites Vault and Universum.
Steinfeld says students should work with their schools to contact alumni working in health care fields who could offer advice on careers.
"Students should be prepared and have good questions to ask," whether they meet with alumni or talk with them on the phone, she says.