For Hickory High School senior Taylor Johnson, choosing a medical-related internship was a no-brainer.
“I’ve known since the beginning of my high school career that I wanted to work in the medical field,” Johnson said. “I just wasn’t sure exactly where.”
After getting her CNA certification last semester, Johnson was looking forward to an internship opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic had other plans.
“With HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protection and insurance matters, it’s already difficult to find a medical internship for a high school student. COVID-19 made this even more challenging,” said Chris Reese, K-64 business liaison.
K-64 fosters collaboration between education, government and business to develop, attract and retain a talent pool to meet growing workforce demands in Catawba County.
As local hospitals and medical practices tightened visitor restrictions during the pandemic, internship opportunities for high school students were put on hold.
“Our local hospitals and practices are great to work with, but with COVID-19 restrictions, they were limited in their customary student internships,” Reese explained. “Being an ‘education connection hub,’ K-64 was contacted to try to help provide some type of internship experience for local high school students.”
In October 2020, K-64 leaders started working on ways to provide a unique internship experience to high school students interested in the medical field.
"K-64 initiated the conversation with education partners, including CVCC and Lenoir-Rhyne (University), knowing we had some options, and presented the internship-concept to see what we all could pull together,” Reese said. "This collaboration is a great example of K-64 helping connect education and community to help our students gain invaluable experience at a very important time in their lives.”
Once plans were made, internship opportunities were made available to students in all three school systems in Catawba County. Johnson didn’t hesitate to sign up.
“This internship allowed me to jump around in different (medical) fields and kind of see where my calling is,” Johnson said. She plans to attend UNC Charlotte and study nursing.
During the semester, 17 students from the three school systems have been exposed to an array of medical-related fields.
“High school students have had the opportunity to explore careers in the areas of surgical technology, radiography, respiratory therapy, polysomnography and electroneurodiagnostics,” said Robin Ross, dean of the School of Health and Public Services at CVCC.
Medical topics that Lenoir-Rhyne University professors offered this semester include anatomy, public health, diagnostic equipment, engaging in a mock Lamaze class, mental health screenings and more.
Ross said the feedback from students has been positive.
“Students have expressed that they love the hands-on aspect of the experiences,” she said. “Many students have indicated they are amazed at the number of careers we have at CVCC that they were not aware of or knew about.”
This was true for Johnson. “Some of the fields we have toured I honestly had no interest in before touring them,” she said.
One field that stood out to Johnson was radiography.
“I thought that was a very interesting week,” she said. “Before this internship, I had never even thought about radiography as a choice for me. (The internship is) definitely showing me different aspects of the medical field and showing me different areas that I may be interested in pursuing.”
Michael R. McGee, dean of the College of Health Sciences at Lenoir-Rhyne University, knows the importance of medical internships, and was eager to help K-64 provide the hands-on internship for students.
“Internships and hands-on experiences provide students a view of the real world or a 'day in the life,’ for a profession,” McGee said. “This is vital in the decision-making process. If they are exposed to and/or experience these job duties firsthand early, they can make a more informed decision about their future plans.”
Ross agreed. “Internships allow students to ‘test-drive’ careers before they invest lots of time and money into college or training into a career they aren't happy with or decide it really isn't for them,” he said.
Emily Willis is a general assignment and education reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.