Vital, perhaps a tad overlooked, and with a “porch time” aspect unique to K, Kalamazoo College’s Discovery Externship Program has connected students and alums since 2002. The externship provides students with valuable observation and participation in a field of their choosing, and, unlike a traditional internship (or any undergraduate program in the country) it also provides students homestays with K alumni. Opportunities range in character and geography, from helping at a community kitchen and farmer’s market in Chelsea, Mich., to working with children on the autism spectrum at Daily Behavioral Health in Cleveland, Ohio, to getting up close and personal with octopi in the crystal waters of the Caribbean for the Northeastern University Marine Science Center.
One of the program’s early alumni adopters, Andrew Terranella ’99, M.D., saw immediately how K students might benefit from time spent at his work. A physician with the Public Health Service, Terranella works with Indian Health Services to provide care to reservations in the southwest United States. In 2008, when he arrived at his first post-residency job as a pediatrician on the Navajo Reservation in Kayenta, Arizona, he called his alma mater.
“We often had medical students come to the reservation,” said Terranella, who serves on the College’s Alumni Association Executive Board, “and I thought it would be fun to have a K student come out, so I called Pam Sotherland [program and data manager at the Center for Career and Professional Development]. She said, ‘Well, we have a new thing called an externship.’”
Terranella and Sotherland composed a description of his medical, rural externship, and soon after two young women, Anna Hassan ’10 and Lauren Torres ’10, signed up and made their way from a verdant Michigan summer to the red dirt and open skies of the Southwest.
Terranella wanted to maximize the benefit of externship for the students by providing some hands-on, brains-on work in addition to job shadowing. “We were launching a program in the clinic called, ‘Adventures in Medicine,’ which was a summer science project for local children and teens,” Andrew explains. “I had a general idea for the program, but I wanted the K externs, along with two medical students, to design the curriculum and administer it.” First things first, though. “We wanted to have one week of orienting to the place and to get to really know each other, so we went on a river trip on the Green River in Utah, which was a blast.” After that, the externs had time to plan and then implement the three-week science program. It is the time students spend with alumni during homestays that differentiates the discovery externship program from any other.
In addition to having the chance to see what a physician does, Anna and Lauren worked with students from area schools, in the process learning how to run a biomedical summer class and how the tribal community functioned. That interaction is important to Terranella. “I think it’s important for people to see that reservations exist,” he explained, “because there is an entire group of Americans that people don’t pay a whole lot of attention to. And yet the reservation is beautiful country, the people are fantastic, and the medicine is really interesting, a type that you won’t see in an academic setting.”
Through hosting externs, Terranella also hopes to inform others of the importance of public health and Indian Health Services, specifically. “Having students come here is a great way to share the cultural experience of working with IHS. Cultural competence is not something you may always learn about in medical school or as an undergrad,” he explains. In fact, in part because of that arid and exhilarating summer at Kayenta, Hassan went on to get her Master of Public Health degree and now works with underserved communities in New Orleans.
Terranella keeps in touch with many of his externs, and credits the homestay aspect of the program for fostering a close-knit bond. “Undoubtedly an important part of the experience is just having one-on-one time—what we call ‘porch time’, which is sitting together after a work day and chatting about anything. Porch time makes externships something more valuable than just getting to see my work. It’s about experiencing a life, as well. What is work-life balance like? What is like to be an IHS doctor living in Tucson? And I get to ask questions of the students and find out about their passions.”
Because of the rewards of hosting, Terranella has offered an externship to K students every year that he can. In addition to those of Hassan and Torres, he has provided externships for the following K students: Emily Parsons ’11, Jenny Kwon ’16, Elizabeth Lenning ’16, Miranda Doepker ’16, and Karina Duarte ’18. And he intends to create an externship at his new job—deputy director of a tribal hospital on the Tohono O’odham reservation in southern Arizona—as soon as he’s settled.
“It’s a really great experience. I’ve loved having the students.”
To get involved in the externship experience, visit the Host an Extern page at Kalamazoo College’s website. Here, you can see past externships, find tips on creating a successful externship and see what past hosts say about their experience.