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107 6th Ave SW, Ronan, MT 59864

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St. Luke Hospital
(406) 676-4441

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(located in Montana)
(406) 676-3737

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Ronan (406) 676-3600
St. Ignatius (406) 745-2781
Southshore (406) 883-2555
Ridgewater (406) 883-3737

St. Luke Community Healthcare Logo

Located in Western Montana
107 6th Ave SW, Ronan, MT 59864

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Future Focus

Students pursuing health careers gain experience through hospital internship program

ST. LUKE IS INVESTING IN THE NEXT GENERATION OF LEADERS IN RURAL HEALTHCARE. Three Ronan High School Students spend several hours a week immersed in the healthcare world through St. Luke’s Med-Ahead High School Internship Program. The idea, St. Luke Chief Operation Officer Sarah Teaff said, is to give students a full picture of what it takes to run a community hospital, and the roles they can play in that system.

“We hope that through this internship students will have a better understanding of themselves and what career path they choose,” Teaff said. This is the first year of the internship program, and the student interns have been learning at the hospital since the beginning of the school year. Their hands-on work is supplemented by one afternoon of classroom instruction each week. The students spend two weeks focusing on one facet of the hospital, and then rotate to another. According to Teaff, the program is a natural fit for St. Luke’s commitment to leading rural health education.

The Med-Ahead High School Internship Program is a result of a partnership with Western Montana Area Health Education Center. WMAHEC strives to improve access to quality healthcare and health education in Montana. The program indulges a wide array of career interests — from direct patient care in family medicine and obstetrics through marketing, finance, and administration. “Interns spend time in exciting places like the emergency room, and some that are not so exciting, like records,” said Chris Briske, Ronan High School teacher, and adviser for health occupations students.

Admission into the program gave students practice navigating a lengthy application. Students who had taken prerequisite courses, shown
leadership, and expressed interest in healthcare careers qualified for the program. Interested students completed an application, wrote a personal essay, and completed an interview with hospital staff.

Beyond expanding understandings of the healthcare world, students learn about the responsibility required of students and professionals in the field. They go through a 4-week orientation that includes information about HIPPA, infection control, and customer service. There are expectations about attendance, dress code, and phone use while students are on duty in the hospital. St. Luke patients might be asked whether students can observe and ask questions during their visit to the hospital. Patient wishes are always respected.

During their time at the hospital, students aren’t just observing, Briske said. Program organizers carefully plan activities for the interns so they’re actively involved in learning about each department. Learning from hospital operations in real-time has advantages over classroom study, according to Briske. “Students see relevance in their education,” she said.

The students themselves see the experience as expanding their understanding of hospital operations. “This internship helped me further develop a love for healthcare through experiencing firsthand many departments at the hospital,” intern Sacorra Reum said. According to Reum, the internship reinforced her desire to pursue a degree in hospital administration. Intern Austin Taylor said his exposure to “the amount of passion” St. Luke’s staff exert in their work inspired him to follow his dreams in the medical field.

According to Briske, the program will give students a leg-up when it comes to admission to training programs. “Our kids are competing against big schools that have big health sciences programs so this helps them be more competitive when they go to college,” she said. Beyond providing students with resume-building experience, Teaff said the mentorship aspect of the program is intended to propel interns to success in their careers.

In addition to benefiting students, the program also helps future recruitment for rural hospitals like St. Luke. It’s difficult for hospitals in small towns to find staff. When local students witness an engaging potential career path in the Mission Valley, they’re more likely to return and invest in the area.

All three interns have decided to pursue work in the field of healthcare. One wants to be a hospital administrator, one wants to be a physician, and one wants to be a physical therapist. All three have been accepted to colleges where they will pursue degrees in their chosen fields. Preparations are already underway for next years’ program. The current students are facilitating an open house for prospective student interns this spring. Teaff said she hopes the program will grow to include high school students throughout the Mission Valley.

Briske said the program has had a large impact on her students. “It’s definitely been a success,” she said. If the inaugural year of the program is any indication, the partnership will start the careers of young healthcare leaders for years to come.

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