Sanford internship program draws record numbers, national reach

Aug. 27, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored Sanford Health.

What started 20 years ago at Sanford Health as an internship program to recruit and train nurses has expanded to include hundreds of students from other academic majors, such as business and technology, because of the growing demand for workers in those areas.

This year’s record number of interns included 198 clinical interns who worked directly with nurses and 543 nonclinical interns at various Sanford Health locations in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Programs available

Sanford Health offers three research internship opportunities to undergraduate and high school students:

  • Sanford Program for Undergraduate Research, SPUR: Students are fully immersed in biomedical science and laboratory research at the Sanford Center. The program is offered to freshman, sophomore and junior college students studying biological or chemical sciences who are interested in exploring careers in research and have intentions of going to graduate school.
  • Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, SURE: Students majoring in public health, psychology, social work, counseling or related fields have the opportunity to work on social-behavioral research in American Indian community-based projects in Mission, Pine Ridge, Rapid City and Sioux Falls.
  • Sanford PROMISE Scholars: This internship offers high school students with an interest in biomedical sciences the opportunity to gain an experience in laboratory research at Sanford Health. Students must be entering their senior year in the fall of the upcoming academic year.

All students participating in research programs are required to present their work at the Sanford Research Symposium following the conclusion of their internship.

“You’re not here to just work and be an extra set of hands; it’s really a learning experience for them,” said Tamara Ledeboer, director of research education programs at Sanford Health. “They’re given their own project and have that sense of ownership while actually being in the lab and having the opportunity to really do some hands-on science.”

Professional career development courses also are offered throughout the summer. Students are able to attend weekly seminars that help them network, prepare for research presentations, learn more about applying to graduate school and building a resume, and gain exposure to a variety of career options within research.

Diverse students

Because of the uniqueness of the research internship program and its growing reputation, the effort is drawing college students from places near and far, including Ivy League and other top universities:

  • South Dakota: South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, Augustana University, University of Sioux Falls, Black Hills State University, Dakota State University, Dakota Wesleyan University, Mount Marty College, Northern State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Sinte Gleska University.
  • North Dakota: University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University.
  • Minnesota: University of Minnesota, Augsburg University, Bethel University, Carleton College, Concordia College, Gustavus Adolphus College, Macalester College, Saint John’s University, St. Olaf College, University of Northwestern-St. Paul and Hamline University.
  • Iowa: University of Iowa, Briar Cliff University, Buena Vista University, Dordt College, Luther College and Northwestern College.
  • Nebraska: Creighton University and University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  • Illinois: Illinois College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Northern Illinois University and Northwestern University.
  • Elsewhere: Harvard University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, University of Notre Dame, Vanderbilt University, Arizona State University, University of Florida, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Alabama State University, Dayton University, Green Mountain College, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, SUNY Fredonia, University of New Mexico and University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.

Research experience

McKayla Poppens is one of the research internship students who has taken advantage of the various opportunities to get involved in cutting-edge work at Sanford Health. Poppens, now a junior studying biology at Augustana University, was part of the PROMISE program in high school and just recently finished her second summer in the SPUR program.

She has spent the past two summers in the Weimer lab investigating Batten disease — trying to understand the cause while also looking for a potential cure or treatment. Poppens said she has enjoyed the independence Sanford Research has given her to drive her own projects and that being part of the program has given her insight on the possibility of performing research in addition to clinical duties as she studies to become a doctor.

“It gives you the idea of how treatments and drugs on the clinical side are tested in step one. Before anything can happen on the patient level, it has to happen on the lab side first,” she said.

Riley Leonard, a senior biology major at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, also completed his second year in the SPUR program. Leonard worked in the Faustino lab, and his research has been focused around the cause of atrial fibrillation in children.

Though he has always had an interest in science, Leonard realized that becoming a medical doctor just didn’t fit his interests. He said his time in the SPUR program has helped him discover his passion for research.

“I know that’s my calling, and every time I’m there it doesn’t really feel like I’m at work,” he said. “My mentor has told me, ‘I really think you have a talent,’ and that was really nice to have someone who saw a potential that maybe I didn’t see in myself.”

Clinical experience

To develop a relationship with future nurses, a 10-week nursing internship allows students to gain experience and skill within actual patient-care situations, clinical simulation and classroom situations. The goal is to help nursing students find an area of practice that best fits their career goals, talents and interests.

Students are assigned an RN preceptor to serve as a personal clinical coach, and they work full-time, including nights, weekends, holidays and 8-, 10- or 12-hour shifts following their designated preceptor’s schedule.

Internships provide opportunities for students to witness firsthand the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations that they may not always be exposed to during clinical rotations or in the classroom.

Sabrina DeBlaere, a senior nursing student at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., worked this summer in the emergency room at the Sanford Fargo Medical Center. She said her preceptors and the emergency room staff were eager to teach and willing to let students step in and help with patients.

“I got the absolute best experience in learning and getting to practice my nursing skills,” DeBlaere said. “Not just technical skills, but also communication with patients in different situations. I learned so much more than I ever have in nursing school or clinical just being able to work in the ER day to day.”

Nonclinical experience

The 12-week, paid Sanford Health nonclinical internships can be used to fulfill credit requirements and are offered in spring, summer and fall. The main goal is to attract students from other areas of study for a future in health care business and administration:

  • Administrative
  • Financial
  • Health information management
  • Marketing
  • Health Plan
  • Human resources
  • Information technology
  • Sanford Foundation
  • Profile by Sanford
  • Supply chain management

Ethan Walker spent the summer as an intern in supply chain management in Sioux Falls, working on strategic sourcing, process improvement and contract negotiation between Sanford Health and its suppliers and business partners.

“It really didn’t feel like I was just an intern,” Walker said. “My supervisor was great to work with and gave me the autonomy to take on some bigger projects on my own. I knew in the grand scheme of things what I had to get done, but overall the process was up to me.”

Walker is a student at USD, studying biology and economics with the intention of pursuing a career in medicine, law or business. Through his internship with Sanford, he had the opportunity to interview doctors and work alongside attorneys and business professionals, and has been able to gain insight on how those three specific disciplines operate within the health care industry.

“You get a much better understanding of what the careers are actually like other than just the visions we have of it when we’re in high school or college,” he said.

Sanford internship program draws record numbers, national reach

Sanford Health had a record 741 interns this year. Here’s a look at how they were integrated into real-life roles throughout the health system.

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