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Local Students Gain Experience During Summer Imaging Internships

Published in Imaging Services, Medical Professionals

Two years ago, when Jahlyn Bill was a sophomore at Redwood Valley High School, she had an ultrasound to examine a lump on her neck. She found the ultrasound experience interesting, and she was equally impressed with the imaging staff who worked together so well during her exam.

Not long after, Jenna Irlbeck an ultrasound/echo technologist at CentraCare – Redwood, and an x-ray co-worker, visited a class at Redwood Valley High School where she brought in a portable ultrasound machine and also talked about sonography and radiography. Later in the year, Jenna, along with Dana Woelfel, Director of Imaging Services, participated in a career event put on by the school and explained the variety of imaging modalities to students. Jahlyn spent time speaking with them and learning more about opportunities in the field of radiology.

While she was initially considering a career in nursing, her personal experience with ultrasound and the conversations about imaging with Jenna and Dana opened Jahlyn's eyes to a new path. She made the decision to study diagnostic medical sonography at Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls.

Summer intern, Sydney Mertens

The Importance of Connections

A fellow graduate of Redwood Valley High School, Sydney Mertens also found she had an interest in radiologic sciences and chose to pursue this degree at North Dakota State University.

As it happens, connections lead to conversations, and conversations can lead to opportunities. In this instance, a friend of Sydney's family, Casey Dirkes, works as a radiology technologist with CentraCare - Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar. Casey shared with Sydney's mom (Annette Mertens, Manager of Surgical Services, CentraCare - Redwood) that there was a paid internship opportunity available during the summer of 2022.

Annette told her daughter Sydney to apply for the internship, and she also shared information on the opportunity with Tammy Bill, a surgical technician in Redwood — and coincidentally, Jahlyn's mom.

Gaining Valuable Experience Through Internships

CentraCare was awarded a grant from the 2022 Summer HealthCare Internship Program (SHCIP), which is administered by the Minnesota Hospital Association on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Health. The program brings students and employers together to give students paid experience in a health care environment and to encourage students to choose healthcare careers. Funding for SHCIP is provided through a contract with the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, Minnesota Department of Health.

Both Jahlyn and Sydney applied and were accepted to participate as summer imaging interns with CentraCare in Willmar. The internship began in mid-June and runs for six to 12 weeks, offering the students experience in both clinic and hospital settings.

Summer intern, Jahlyn Bill

"It has been a great experience," said Jahlyn. "I am so glad I did this. It gave me peace of mind that I was going into the right career."

Sydney agreed, "The staff have been super nice, and everyone is very helpful teaching me things. Going into the internship I wasn't sure what area I was interested in, but I was able to rotate through each modality including x-ray, nuclear, ultrasound, CT, and interventional radiology. Now I'm leaning towards ultrasound because I like how hands on you are with the doctors, and the entire process with ultrasound has been very helpful and interesting."

A Win-Win for Students and Employers

"We have always been a big supporter of students and education," said Imaging Director, Dana Woelfel. "We enjoy giving students an opportunity to see what options are available to them, and we've had several students in our region that have expressed interest in learning more about imaging careers. We were ready to work with them, and the Summer HealthCare Internship Program opportunity lined up perfectly with this."

Lead Imaging/X-ray Tech, Julie Kastner, works with Sydney

Sydney shared that the flexibility of scheduling and the ability to have a paid job this summer was definitely a perk to the internship. "Without this program, I never would have had the opportunity to shadow and learn about all the different specialties and everything you can do in ultrasound."

Jahlyn began her internship in the clinic and then switched to the hospital for her final three weeks. "I really liked both settings," said Jahlyn. "It's so much different than when you're a patient. And it's interesting to learn how much all the modalities work together. I am learning so much, and the people here are so welcoming. I really feel like I fit in. It doesn't even feel like I'm going to work, I enjoy all of it. A lot has to do with the people — they are all amazing to work with."

"Staff enjoy sharing their knowledge with the students who generally are interested in learning what they do," explained Dana. "Students bring a whole new dimension to the department — adding their perspective and inquisitive nature to the group. We learn from our students, so it really is a win-win."

The Future Looks Bright

Following her summer experience, Sydney returns to NDSU this fall and is hoping to secure a clinical internship in ultrasound for the next step in her college program.

"This opportunity allows area students to learn and grow in their career paths, while also exposing them to healthcare job opportunities right here in our communities," said Dana.

Jahlyn will start her program at Southeast Technical College this fall. "When I apply for my school internship I'm hoping to be placed in Willmar or Redwood Falls," she shared. "After graduation I'd like to come back here — to somewhere in the CentraCare world. Everyone is so helpful and nice. This experience has made me excited to finish school!"