Co-op programs and internships benefit both the students and the hospitals that participate in such training.
Biomeds must possess an understanding of many different fields to do their job. Most have had courses in physics, electronics, biology, engineering, and perhaps some chemistry and computer technology. Theory can only go so far, however, and, at some point, the biomed has to go beyond knowing and start doing.
That is why a good educational program will include practical, hands-on experiences in addition to academic class work and theory. Mastering techniques and being able to do the work are necessary just to get the job, let alone keep it.
Educators have long known that practical education offers major benefits to students, especially those going into hands-on fields like biomedical engineering and technology. Employers also recognize this fact, and most require experience; but how does a student get experience if they cannot get a job without it? That is where internship programs come into play.
Whats the Difference?
Most degree-granting biomed programs not only offer hands-on internship programs but also actually require them for graduation. Hands-on experiences may come in two different forms: internship programs and cooperative education programs. While the programs are different in the details, both types award college credits for a working experience, which usually includes an academic component as well.
An internship program is generally a nonpaid experience during which students spend a set amount of time working in a hospital or other professional environment that has a partnership with their college or university. The staff of the hospital works closely with the college to teach, monitor, and evaluate the students progress, and the student is graded on performance.
Texas State Technical College in Waco, Tex, has a semester-long internship as part of its curriculum in biomedical engineering and medical imaging. According to Roger Bowles, master instructor, biomedical equipment technology, the college currently works with a number of local hospitals to administer the internship program, which is worth six credits. A work experienceeither internship or cooperative educationis a required part of the program.
Students in the internship program work with a senior technician for 20 hours per week at their internship site. They begin by observing and then learning preventive maintenance and small repairs. They are evaluated on learning objectives and on how much theyve improved.
Theyre all pretty green when they get there, Bowles says.
After completing the program, students should be familiar with test equipment and preventive maintenance and should be ready to work in the field.
Texas State Technical College also offers students the opportunity to take part in a cooperative education program. In this program, students work a 40-hour week and are paidusually somewhere between $8 and $11 per hour. Students in co-op receive a training plan designed by the employer and approved by the college and work with a faculty member who visits the site two times per semester to monitor the learning environment and the completion of learning objectives. Students must also complete a biweekly report that includes a list of equipment on which they have worked. They are also required to submit a final report to their faculty-member supervisor for evaluation. The supervisor submits a final evaluation of the students performance that includes technical skills, enthusiasm, willingness to learn, and work ethic.
Texas State Technical College has 20 to 25 students in internship or co-op programs at any given time and expects the number to rise to between 40 and 50 as the degree program continues to grow. The college works with nearly a dozen local hospitals as well as some equipment manufacturers.
Cincinnati State Technical and Community College requires a mandatory cooperative education experience as part of its AS degree in electronics technology, biomed equipment, and information systems technology. Students in this program earn $9 to $10 per hour and rotate between 10 weeks of school and 10 weeks of work experience, making a total of five terms per year. This allows one group of students to be in the field while the other is in the classroom and ensures that the hospital site has a constant supply of student workers.
The Cincinnati State Technical and Community College program has recently changed its emphasis to information technology to meet industry demands and currently enrolls approximately 50 students, graduating 10 to 12 per year. The college uses nearly 50 sites overall, most in the local area.
Students in the cooperative education program begin their work experience at an entry-level position, learning inspections and electrical safety and working their way into doing repairs. They usually receive a pay raise each year, and most are hired by their co-op site after graduation.
We generally dont have to place students in jobs, says Steven Yelton, program chair, programming and software development, biomedical and electronic engineering technologies. Our co-op placement is greatthere are more jobs than students.
Internship programs can also be an important part of graduate school for biomeds seeking to earn a masters degree. The University of Connecticut has an innovative MS degree in clinical engineering that partners with a number of hospitals in New England to provide students with practical experience. The students in this 2-year program spend approximately 25 hours per week working at an area hospital. During the first year they rotate through various departments, spending time in each area (cardiology, radiology, anesthesia, etc) learning both the department and the equipment under the direction of a biomedical technician, from whom they receive hands-on training in preventive maintenance and repair. During the second year of the program, they choose an area of specialty and work with the hospital to complete their required thesis project, which is usually very research oriented.
They work directly with our techs, who have done this for many years, says Vinnie DeFrancesco, a clinical engineer with Hartford Hospital, who currently oversees the internship program at his facility.
The students are paid both a salary and a stipend from the university that is funded by the area hospitals. More important, they receive real-life training.
According to DeFrancesco, many of the students put in much more than their required 25 hours of time, and the hospital has greatly benefited from their thesis projects.
The masters-level students help us to solve problems and update policies, he says.
A Win-Win Situation
A hands-on educational experience offers some very tangible benefits for students. First, and most important, it allows them to learn by doing, exposing them to the equipment and testing devices that they will be working with throughout their careers. This gives them the time and the environment in which they can practice their skills and improve their techniques. After completing the program, they have gained experience and have confidence in their skills.
Internship and co-op programs also allow students to try out employers to see if the fit is right for them. Many student workers are offered full-time jobs after completing their work experiencethe internship or co-op allows them to demonstrate not only their skills but also their enthusiasm, reliability, and work habits. They can also make sure the work environment is the right one for them before committing to a full-time, permanent position.
Finally, co-op programs help students to finance their education. According to Yelton, Cincinnati State Technical and Community Colleges 10-week rotation allows students to earn and save money for their tuition as they attend college.
College work-experience programs are also beneficial for hospitals and employers. Since co-op and internship students are not full-time employees, they help to keep costs down. Internship students receive college credit in lieu of a salary, and students are not given fringe benefits. Students can also help to fill in on evening and night shifts, which may be difficult to staff.
Internship programs also allow employers to try out an employee before making a full-time employment offer.
Our internship and co-op programs give employers a chance to look at a potential employee for a few months, Bowles says. Some students become very involved with the hospital, and many are hired after graduation.
According to Bowles, the program has strong support in the area, and each semester he receives calls from more hospitals looking for student workers.
Co-op employers do have some obligations and responsibilities, however. In particular, they must make sure the work environment is a true learning experience for students and not just a menial or routine job that does not allow them to learn or grow. Employers must also fairly evaluate the student and provide feedback and instruction when needed.
A college or university degree is certainly important in todays world of information and technology. In the medical field, hands-on training and practice are integral parts of the curriculum and ensure that graduates are prepared to meet the challenges of this dynamic, fast-paced industry.
James Arthur Anderson, PhD, is a contributing writer for 24×7.