Saturday, January 18, 2014

How to Have a Winning Health Promotion Internship Program

While we generally think about internships as a learning opportunity with advantages for students, budget cuts paired with a tough economy have increased the benefit of capable, entry level workers to employers and schools. The health promotion field is a great match for this type of win-win-win relationship:

    Wellness departments are often understaffed and underfunded these days
    Students need real-life experience to complete their educational development
    Colleges/universities gain important interaction with businesses and communities.

Regardless of format, all experiential learning activities -- such as internships, practicums, field experiences, cooperative education, apprenticeships, and service learning -- have common attributes.

UWSP Reflections

The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point School of Health Promotion and Human Development meets these objectives in their internship and field study program. Students not only work directly for the UWSP employee wellness program but also contribute and gain experience in the surrounding community/state as well as nationally through internships and field work. Examples follow:

    UWSP health promotion students organize and run the annual campus breast cancer walk to benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
    Practicum students on campus write the UWSP employee wellness letter, do onsite blood pressure checks at several University buildings, and serve as coaches/personal trainers for employees who opt into these add-on programs.
    UWSP students are wellness coaches for participants in the Community Weight Race (sponsored by Ministry of Health Care), fitness trainers at Sentry Insurance's onsite facility, and organizers of the employee health fair at Del Monte foods... just to name a few community activities.
    Nationally, interns from UWSP have filled various roles at NASA, The White House, and Kimberly-Clark.

Laying the Groundwork for Success


To be successful for the worksite, internships should provide:

    Valuable work hours and services to alleviate limited budgets and staffing
    A fresh, new perspective on achieving employer goals based on the knowledge and skills students have gained through their formal training
    A way to help manage workflow, recruit potential new talent, and increase productivity of current staff by delegating tasks to interns.


Reflecting on the UWSP program, to be successful for students, internships should provide:

    A chance to learn and develop skills through active participation in a real-world context with practical application of academic content and theory
    Circumstances to apply classroom knowledge to possible career work environments through on-the-job training
    Encouragement for critical thinking and problem solving using what they're learning in school -- to not only gain valuable skills, but also valuable networking opportunities.

The key is active involvement of the students. They must be part of shaping the process they will follow -- guided by the concepts of their coursework, along with their own personal knowledge and experiences. This active learning is a crucial part of student development, as are collaboration, feedback, practical applications, reflection, and cognition. These outcomes can be in an interdisciplinary setting and, most important for health promotion students, while leading health-related activities. For instance, interns can perform needs assessments and then plan, implement, and evaluate health promotion programs designed to meet those needs.


To be successful for the college/university, internships should provide:

    A way to integrate diverse learning styles and make learning more relevant for students
    The optimum opportunity for students to enter their chosen professions or fulfill career goals upon graduation
    Interaction with businesses and communities to meet a competitive necessity.

Incorporating these factors can make internships successful for all parties involved.

Dean Witherspoon, President and founder of employee wellness firm, Health Enhancement Systems, has 25 years in health promotion. He has served on the board of the Association for Worksite Health Promotion and held several regional as well as state offices. Dean is a nationally known speaker and author, having presented at more than 70 conferences and written hundreds of employee wellness articles for national publications.

No comments:

Post a Comment