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Making the Most of Your Internship

By Margaret Ledda

Health information administration is a high-growth field, one that is full of potential. Tapping into that potential, however, requires not only the right credentials obtained through higher education but also a positive internship and industry experience.

Success starts with carefully researching and selecting the right internship for you. Look for an interesting, challenging site. Be thoughtful about what kind of environment would most allow you to try new skills, stretch yourself, provide knowledge and experiences to round out your education, or allow you to work with a great team or mentor.

If your internship position is too similar to your current role, it’s not a relevant learning experience. It doesn’t stretch you or reward you professionally to work with a preceptor with whom you have worked previously. Some preceptors (or perhaps other staff members) might view your movement toward your next career step as a threat. Even among the best teams, doing something you know how to do well already won’t excite you or help you build your skill set and résumé. It might be easy and comfortable, but this is the time for professional challenges and new experiences.

A great place to start is to make a list of questions and/or topics you would like to learn more about and become skilled in. Stay focused on that as you progress through your internship. Speak up and share what you’d like to learn. Discuss your interests and goals and ask up front if there are opportunities to get involved in those areas.

But don’t forget that this is a partnership. Ask your preceptor about their expectations. Request feedback from your supervisor to make sure you are on the right track. Don’t be afraid of thoughtful, constructive criticism.

Learn by helping; maybe there is a project that your preceptor’s team has set aside due to lack of time or staff. You might be able to solve that problem. When you see the opportunity for process improvement, politely and professionally offer suggestions (but make sure you have the facts first).

Keep a running list of all of the projects you have worked on and the tasks you’ve mastered so that you can discuss your progress with your supervisor. This will also help you remember everything you’ve worked on to update your résumé.

Of course, always be humble, presentable, timely, and professional. Always be cognizant of HIPAA rules and policies and procedures while at your internship site. For example, details of your internship should not be shared with anyone outside of the organization.

If there’s a potential job opening at the end of the internship, express your interest with your preceptor. Regardless, you should ask for a final review and feedback from the preceptor and colleagues. Reflect on the skills you’ve gained during your internship. Understanding what you’ve learned and what steps you can take to move forward on your career path are essential to making the most of your internship.

A final tip: It should go without saying that when you’re working, you’re working. But we hear a significant number of complaints from preceptors about the constant checking of cell phones during work hours. That’s not OK. It’s a serious distraction—and certainly, if you’re overly distracted, you’re not making the most of your internship.

Margaret Ledda, Stephens College HIA Program Director, has worked at Stephens College in her current position since 2009 and previously was an adjunct instructor.