Nonclinical internships: giving students a glimpse of healthcare careers

Wayne Wilson
Wayne Wilson

by Wayne Wilson, PHR, MBA
Manager, Human Resources
Methodist Dallas Medical Center

We’ve all been there. Fresh out of school and ready to join the workforce. You secure an interview and things seem to be going well. Then you hear those dreaded words, “We’re looking for someone with experience.” But how are you supposed to get experience when you’ve just graduated? Sound familiar?

That happened to me, and I’ll never forget the frustration that I felt as I tried to figure out how to get around this conundrum. As a human resources manager at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, I decided to tackle this situation head on over five years ago. My solution was to create a nonclinical internship program for high school and college students. The idea was to give these students a chance to gain experience and real-world skills by working with a large healthcare provider. I started in my own backyard, human resources. Based on the success my department had with the program, I slowly expanded it to other nonclinical areas such as marketing and public relations and information technology.

I soon learned that others in Methodist Health System had also seen the wisdom of launching internship programs at their facilities. Methodist Charlton Medical Center implemented an internship program with the Dr. Emmett J. Conrad Leadership Program. This program matches two highly motivated college students from District 23, Texas Sen. Royce West’s district, with the hospital.

When you launch an internship program, one of your first challenges is to publicize it and identify appropriate pools of talent. So I started with the University of Texas at Arlington, where I recruited students enrolled in the human resources degree program. Then I took my message to The University of Texas at Dallas to find IT interns. This turned out to be a win-win situation for the students and Methodist Dallas. The students earned credit for completing the internship. We gave them letters of recommendation, and they were able to add this experience to their resume. Most important, they gained insight into whether this was something that they truly wanted to choose as a career. The hospital benefited from nonpaid manpower that was truly interested in learning about their areas of specialization.

Today, the nonclinical internship program has become a key component of Methodist Dallas’ diversity outreach initiative. As the largest employer in Oak Cliff, part of our outreach mission is to provide opportunities for young people in our community by helping to expose them to healthcare careers. All of our students come from local colleges where we have formed lasting partnerships or from the DISD magnet schools.

This summer, the hospital welcomed eight interns; five had been interns with the Mayor’s Intern Fellows Program. They worked in human resources, public relations and marketing, critical care nursing, organizational effectiveness, and food service/dietitian’s office. Two were Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School (YWLS) interns — one worked in the Golden Cross office and the other in the medical staff office. Finally, one was an Exxon Mobile intern, and he worked in the human resources office.

All of our interns are treated like staff, and they are subject to the same expectations including professional dress; being on time; and being an interested, active member of the team by paying attention, being willing to learn and ask questions, and working as an effective team member.

What do our interns have to say about their experience this summer?

Pablo Hernandez, a student at Harmony Science Academy and a Mayor’s Intern Fellow who worked in human resources, says the most important thing he learned from his experience was to stay positive: “Even though things might not show up the right way, when you’re positive you can keep ahead of and overcome the obstacles.” Pablo says his internship will have a direct connection to his career choice. “I’m planning on ultimately becoming a medical examiner, but I’d like to start out as a critical care nurse. During my internship, I got a chance to meet with the manager of the critical care unit as well as one of the operating room managers.”

Arlene Ortega was the YWLS intern in the Golden Cross office. “The most important lesson I learned from the internship was that you have to be able to work together as a team with your colleagues in order to have an efficient work environment. I saw this every day. I was surprised to learn how much work the staff members go through for each patient. I am planning to join the medical field as a pediatric oncologist, so it’s beneficial to have some idea about how everything works,” Arlene said.

When asked “What was the most important lesson learned?” Terie Young, another YWLS intern, delivered these pearls of wisdom: “It is not how fast you do something, but how accurate it is.” In addition, she says, “I learned to manage my time and become more responsible since I had to get to work on time.”

Finally, Daniel Vega, a senior at Texas Tech University, was the Exxon Mobile HR intern. “My favorite thing about the internship was being part of a diverse and professional department that ran efficiently to provide the services that were required by Methodist Dallas employees. The internship will serve as a building block to my professional development. The experience has helped me see how systems within a corporation interact with each other,” Daniel said.

If you’re looking for an organization that is full of career opportunities, consider Methodist Health System. Visit us at

© Methodist Health System