Students try out hospital work through internship program

Warren Memorial Hospital interns pose at their graduation. They are, front row, from left, Amber Smoot, Hailey Ocheltree, Carly Dudley, Brooke Athelli and Bobbi Lockhart, and back row, from left, Garrett Hunyady and Destiny Lillard. Courtesy photo by Shannon Loy

FRONT ROYAL — Brooke Athelli, 17, of Rappahannock County, was finishing up her shift at the cafeteria in Warren Memorial Hospital.

“Right now, I’m working in the cafeteria, and I serve the customers the food that they would like,” Athelli said.

Athelli had been working throughout the hospital during the summer. As one of seven high school students at Warren Memorial Hospital working in an internship program, she had taken tours doing laundry and nutrition services.

She delivered trays of food to patients and cleaned rooms inside the hospital’s emergency room – all in an effort to understand what working in a hospital is like.

“I’m interested in coming into the medical field, and I thought this would be a good first step to knowing what the hospital environment is like and to know the background of the hospital,” Athelli said.

Valley Health, an organization composed of six hospitals in Virginia and West Virginia, started a high school internship program two years ago, according to Shannon Loy, internship coordinator for the program. The program is designed to get high school students exposure working in a hospital, and to potentially get them to work for Valley Health.

“Upon the completion of the program, they have the opportunity to seek either full-time, part-time or per-diem positions within Valley Health,” Loy said. “Many of our interns have already been accepted into positions.”

There were 34 interns in this year’s program. As of Aug. 3, Loy said around 10 of the interns would be working in Valley Health Hospitals.

According to Loy, the Valley Health internship program has expanded since it started. For the first time this year, Valley Health’s two West Virginia Hospitals took part in the program.

But while the program has expanded from where it started, Loy said it was unlikely the program would grow much larger.

“Right now, we’re at capacity for what we can take,” Loy said.

Loy described growth in the program as part of a plan to fully develop the program.

“The first year, (Valley Health was) just kind of getting our feet wet with the program,” Loy said. “Last year, we really structured the program, gave them a curriculum that the students are following. And this year, we’ve grown the program.”

In order to find students for the program, Loy said she reaches out to local schools to see if the guidance counselors know of students who would be good fits. Loy said she would try to reach out to the schools earlier next year.

After guidance counselors make recommendations, Loy said, Valley Health invites students to shadow people in their local hospital.

“That’s where we’re able to get a lot of feedback from the kids,” Loy said. “We have a form that our associates are given. I kind of evaluate the interactions, make sure that they’re paying attention, make sure that none of them are sitting on their cell phones the whole time.”

Then, the prospective interns apply for the internship on the Valley Health website and go through a background check and drug screening, as any other Valley Health employee would.

That way, “they can just go straight to a job after the internship ends,” Loy said.

Loy pitched the internship as an opportunity for people who are interested in jobs in medicine and health to gain experience and exposure to hospital work. But not all of the students wanted jobs in hospitals at the end of the internship.

Amber Smoot, 17, of Sperryville, for instance, no longer wanted to be involved in human medicine at the end of her internship.

“I thought I wanted to go into the medical field and have some insight to it,” Smoot said.

But by the end, she decided she wanted to become a veterinarian.

“I just love animals; I work on a farm,” she said.