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BBGH high school intern program providing great opportunities for over two decades

Box Butte General Hospital (BBGH) has had a successful high school summer intern program for over two decades. A prime example of its success was one of the first interns to participate in the program, Dr. Josh McConkey. He went on to have a successful career as a physician. Another more recent example is Trevor Ridenour, who completed his high school internship a couple years ago and is currently employed at BBGH as a Nurse Aide while studying to be an LPN.

Dr. McConkey’s mother and former BBGH Chief Nursing Officer Jane McConkey remembered that, “Josh was one of the first two. Actually they came on as interns before we actually formalized the program. I know Josh was put into all kinds of jobs around the hospital, from what was then housekeeping to maintenance. When maintenance got a hold of him, they really put him to work, I remember that.” While her son had already decided to go into medicine by then (he had been accepted into the RHOP program about the same time), Jane said the experiences during his internship helped solidify his decision. “Josh got to witness some pretty interesting Emergency Department cases and with him already being an adrenalin junky, that’s what he chose to do after he got into med school. He’s now a partner in a for-profit ER practice in Austin, TX. But I want to reiterate how important it is for adolescents to get as much experience as they can. The more they can get experience at different careers, the better prepared they will be when it’s time to make their career choice.” 

The program started in 1996 and redesigned in 2007 to give interns hired at BBGH, who are paid the current minimum wage, an even broader experience. According to Human Resource (HR) Manager Lisa Hillyer and HR Assistant Chelsey Heredia, HR redesigned the high school intern program so interns gain leadership development and a heightened awareness of the many opportunities in healthcare through observation and entry-level work experience. The program allows the six interns hired each year to explore as many health professions as possible over an eight week period, including: Purchasing, Basic Life Support and Basic Nursing Assistant training, Information Technology, Radiology, Rehab and Wellness/Cardiac Rehab, Laboratory, Maintenance, Environmental Services, the Patient Care Unit, Emergency Department, Respiratory Therapy/ElectroDiagnostics, and Pharmacy.

When interns are assigned to a department for a week, a mentor from each department will help the interns understand their duties and/or responsibilities.

“We give each intern a BBGH Passport, which they use to document his or her progress throughout the summer,” Lisa said. “At the end, they will use that documentation to write and present a capstone of their experience. They’ll give that capstone presentation to our CEO Lori Mazanec and all department managers.” The capstone includes what the intern found most interesting over the summer, as well as what the intern didn’t like. They also provide areas for opportunity to improve the internship experience. “We visit with each intern on a weekly basis to see how things are going. If the intern said they really enjoyed a particular department, we’ll try to get them back to that one the last week of their employment so that they can develop more understanding of that career,” Chelsey added.

An important component is the leadership development aspect of the program. Each intern is assigned the task of being a leader of the intern team for a week. During that period, the intern is responsible for ensuring all interns are present and accounted for in their assigned departments. As part of the capstone, they will be asked to describe what they learned about themselves while acting as a team leader and the most surprising activity they observed.

“While almost all of the interns have come away with a good experience, there are those who find out that what they planned to do isn’t for them,” Lisa recalled. “There have been interns who find out that they can’t stand the sight of blood, for example.” But for most, the experience proves positive. “Many go on to careers in Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, and Nursing, to name a few,” Lisa pointed out.

Trevor is a good current example of that. “My mom, Audrey, has long been a nurse in the Emergency Department at BBGH,” he shared. “I’ve seen how much satisfaction she gets in helping other people, making them feel better. Seeing her in action; that really drove me to want to become a nurse. When I interned at BBGH, I’d already been a member of the Health Professions Club throughout high school. Being an intern while I was in high school helped me really see how each department helps in its own way with patient care. In all honesty my favorite was the Emergency Department because you never know what’s going to come through that door. That’s where I want to end up after earning my LPN through WNCC, then RN certifications. My ultimate goal is to eventually become a flight nurse. Being an intern is a very eye opening experience. You might have a basic knowledge of what a hospital does when you get hired, but the summer really broadens your perspective. It makes you think, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do instead of what I thought I wanted to do.’  When I mentioned I really wasn’t getting much out of the OR rotation, Lisa and Chelsey let me go back to the ED for the rest of the week. That was nice."

CNO Carolyn Jones points out that many summer interns who decide to make a career in healthcare go on to be awarded scholarships from BBGH and Box Butte Health Foundation when they start college and beyond. “Of those who have received scholarships in the past, 16 recipients are current employees of BBGH and 9 recipients are previous employees of BBGH,” she said. “So our summer intern program, along with our scholarship programs, are successful recruiting tools for our hospital.”

Box Butte General Hospital is an equal opportunity provider and employer.