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New internship program connects health students with community and careers

Amanda Goodman

This spring, the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University quietly launched a much-anticipated official internship program with the aim of setting health students up for success.

It’s part of an effort to provide additional support and guidance to those pursuing one of the innovative degrees outside of nursing that the college offers.

CONHI Senior Director of Health Programs and Clinical Professor Cris Wells says because many of these programs, including Health Care Compliance and Regulations, Community Health, Integrative Health and Health Innovation, don’t have straight pathways to careers — like nursing does — it’s important to help make those real-world connections for students.

“The whole idea was to make sure that the students that we have in the health programs really have skills and are able to translate what they’re learning in the classroom into the skill set that they need to work,” Wells said.

When Wells was asked to oversee the implementation of the program, she tapped CONHI Baccalaureate Health Programs Instructor Caryn Unterschuetz and Armen Hakobyan, a clinical research management program coordinator, to lead the efforts. 

Cris Wells

“(Students) were to be able to do internships before, but it was more of a case-by-case basis, maybe an instructor knew about an opportunity that would be good for the student and they set it up that way. What we’re looking to do is standardize this whole process,” said Hakobyan.

Labeled in the course catalog as HCR 484 and HCI 484, these internships offer students three elective credit hours. While in-person classes are required, there’s only a handful of them as most of the time is spent at the internship site.

Still, students need to have room in their schedules to register for the course and should consider things like transportation because many of the internships are off campus. Even though this is an elective, CONHI students are given priority.

Spring 2018 was the first official semester under the new program, and Unterschuetz says the Arizona health care community has been very receptive to the idea.

“We’ve had a great outpouring from the community; they’re so accepting and they really want to work with us,” said Unterschuetz.

Armen Hakobyan

A couple of the partners already on board include the Maricopa County Department of Public Health and A Caring Heart. They’re also currently in talks with the Arizona Medical Board.

For some of these entities, Hakobyan said it’s really about reconnecting vs. forging new connections.

“It seems like we had some of these agreements in place before, but somewhere along the lines it just sort of fizzled out,” he said.

Right now, there are actually more internship opportunities than students, though interest has increased after a flier made the rounds.

“We’re very carefully talking to students, finding out what their passions are and what they want to do after graduation. This is very student-centered,” said Unterschuetz.

In that same vein, feedback is key. Not only is the program interested in hearing from the community partners but also from each participant, and the comments are already rolling in.

Caryn Unterschuetz

“We’re learning from the students as they come back, kind of a gap analysis of what we need to provide in some of our education, what’s missing, what we need to do to maybe enhance some of our courses to help future students,” said Wells.

Everyone involved is working toward the same goal, creating an ongoing, sustainable internship program where health students can explore their options and perhaps even create their own role in the ever-changing world of health care.

“I think these degrees that we have are going to be the degrees of the future because we are going to move away from the hospital as being the center of care into community health that is much more sustainable,” Unterchuetz said.

The program will be offered year-round, with summer spots open right now. Students interested in an internship can contact Unterschuetz or Hakobyan.