Student Internships Offer Distinct Learning Opportunities

Program participants benefit from professional skill development, mentorship, and more

August 28, 2023

Former KPSOM interns include (top row) Marie Ayiah; Shivam Bhargava; Beatrice Castillo-Sahagun; (bottom row) Kareem King; Keza Levine; and Marilyn Rodriguez

Former KPSOM interns include (top row) Marie Ayiah; Shivam Bhargava; Beatrice Castillo-Sahagun; (bottom row) Kareem King; Keza Levine; and Marilyn Rodriguez

Connection prompted the beginnings of several Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine (KPSOM) internship programs. When Dean Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, KPSOM Founding Dean and CEO, and Maureen Connelly, MD, MPH, Senior Associate Dean for Academic and Community Affairs—both of whom have deep ties to Harvard University—began their roles at the school, the news reached the Harvard Global Health Internship team. They soon reached out to determine if Harvard students could be placed at KPSOM to intern. Deans Schuster and Connelly met with the Harvard Global Health Internship program director, who was visiting Southern California, which led to the placement of the first intern, and today, KPSOM has welcomed interns from this program three years in a row. This year, KPSOM leaders also partnered with Harvard’s Mindich Service Fellowship program to place two fellows in relevant internships. 

Since their inception, KPSOM internship programs have offered several students from varied places and backgrounds distinct educational experiences with the goal of mentoring, providing professional development and learning opportunities while showcasing the importance of health equity and diversity and inclusion within the medical field and communities. For instance, former KPSOM interns Marie Ayiah, Beatrice Castillo-Sahagun, Kareem King, Keza Levine, and Marilyn Rodriguez all learned of KPSOM’s internship opportunity through the Harvard Global Institute. The program sponsors more than 50 internship opportunities domestically and internationally at prestigious community organizations, health centers, NGOs, and other government entities each summer. 

While Castillo-Sahagun and King’s internships—which were both within KPSOM’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) and Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity (OEID)—took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread shutdowns that necessitated an online internship process, Ayiah worked onsite at KPSOM during a different period. She met many faculty members, staff, and students during her internship and attended several events alongside KPSOM medical students. She was also able to connect with her supervisors on a more personal level which, according to Ayiah, made for a worthwhile internship experience. 

Shivam Bhargava, who was a Morehead-Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, learned of an internship opportunity with KPSOM’s Medical Education department through Deepthiman (Deepu) Gowda, MD, MPH, MS, KPSOM Assistant Dean for Medical Education and alumnus of the same selective UNC scholarship program, which provides full funding for summer opportunities related to students’ professional interests.

“I was able to get connected to [Dr. Gowda] as I was very interested in medical education and narrative medicine,” said Bhargava. “I love that the internship [offered] me a lot of autonomy to be creative and to center it around my own interests and passions. I saw it as a unique opportunity to work with world-renowned physicians and faculty members.”

Each student was drawn to their respective internship program for a diverse set of reasons, but each had helpful takeaways from their experiences which ranged from greater relationship-building and stakeholder collaboration; garnering new research, communication, and presentation skills; learning more about medical education and diversity, equity, and inclusion; and much more.

“This opportunity was new, with a new medical school that values equity and diversity, and is close to home,” said Castillo-Sahagun. “What most appealed to me was that the values of the medical school were key in all parts of extracurriculars for students and how the school hoped the same for its global health program such as supporting vulnerable communities and promoting inclusivity in medical education.”

In contrast, Levine was most attracted to the internship opportunity in the OCE because it opened the door to facilitating community engagement in and through medical education, and she jumped at the chance to work closely with a medical school community while meeting inspiring physicians and academics. Rodriguez, who also interned within the OCE, was similarly interested in learning more about community engagement in relation to medicine and public/global health. Ultimately, she was pleased the internship addressed her threefold interests in medicine, community, and collaboration. 

Ayiah, who also interned within the OCE and OEID, was drawn to KPSOM’s commitment to EID work, not only within the respective EID office but also throughout the institution at large. “The opportunity to work with KPSOM in its efforts to increase the number of underrepresented students in medicine stood out to me as someone who believes in the importance of diversity in medicine.” 

In Bhargava’s case, he was able to partner with Dr. Gowda to create a mutually beneficial project that would allow him to grow and make an impact on the KPSOM curriculum. His pre-health background helped him understand the lack of social justice, bioethics, and narrative medicine in topics of STEM and medicine, and as a neuroscience major, Bhargava realized he wasn’t learning a great deal about the social and ethical implications of topics being covered in his courses. Knowing this pushed him to work on a bigger project that addressed both equity and medicine. 

Many students used their internships to stretch toward their professional objectives. “My career goal is to work across sectors to create more equitable health systems for the medically marginalized,” said King, who also interned within the OEID. “I was drawn to the position at [KPSOM] because it was a chance for me to learn the inner workings of a medical school and participate in a curricular design process that centers on health equity.” 

Each intern shared that KPSOM’s interview process served not only as a great way for internship facilitators to get to know each candidate but also for each candidate to learn more about the school. For example, Castillo-Sahagun raved over the conversation she had with Dean Connelly and Dr. Aaron Berkowitz, MD, PhD, KPSOM’s former Founding Director of Global Health, during her interview for the internship opportunity with the OCE, in which she was asked about her clinical experience. She was also able to share more about the international medical mission trips in which she had taken part. 

“As a first-generation Mexican-American college student, I had some thoughts to share about inclusion and diversity,” said Castillo-Sahagun. “These were [well] received and we were able to all talk about what we hoped our relationships could then be with countries in which global health programs could be run.”

In contrast, Rodriguez spent much of her interview time with Dean Connelly sharing more about her involvement in various organizations, meaningful classes she’d taken, and how she planned to apply the knowledge she had learned from these experiences to the role at KPSOM. “I really enjoyed the interview because I felt that Dr. Connelly was really trying to get to know me and learn more about my academic and extracurricular interests,” said Rodriguez.

Prior to his time at KPSOM, King interviewed with Dean Connelly and Lindia Willies-Jacobo, MD, KPSOM Senior Associate Dean for Admissions and Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity, who he said were both “extremely knowledgeable about the program and supportive throughout the interview process.” King began his internship in the summer of 2021 within KPSOM’s EID department where he was tasked with developing more diverse patient profiles for first- and second-year student classroom instruction, utilizing health equity principles and foregrounding the social determinants of health. His role later expanded to focus on the creation of the EID Curricular Scorecard, a tool that allows KPSOM students to rate how culturally responsive their curriculum is on a point scale and provides faculty direct feedback on ways to improve the curriculum for future classes.

“I was invited back to the school to continue this project in Fall 2021, and I’ve been working with the EID team ever since,” said King. “In that time, we’ve successfully developed the scorecard and field-tested it twice with current medical students at the school. I also had the opportunity to present our work at the AAMC’s annual conference in April 2022. I've been able to marry my interests in health activism, equity, and the biological sciences to create a tool that stands to have a lasting impact on medical education at the school.”

King was prepared to tackle his internship project of analyzing more than 300 advanced biomedical curriculum slide decks for first- and second-year medical students and developing ways to bring the social determinants of health and EID principles into the conversation as a history of science major and having studied biological sciences and the history of medical racism. To ensure the project’s success, King had to have a basic understanding of the science behind the lessons, understand how to contextualize that science within history, critically examine how race may be used in these conversations, and tease out any implicit biases, stigma, and discrimination that may occur.

Ayiah’s project focused on developing recruitment tactics to attract and retain greater numbers of students from underrepresented groups to study medicine and the health professions. She used her past experiences and personal journey to help identify what would help these students achieve more medical education access.

Rodriguez worked to better understand the impact on medical students and the communities they serve through service-learning. In her OCE internship role, she attended meetings, sat in on workshops, and assisted in finding relevant background information for a scoping review to be written by the service-learning team. Her role in this scoping review was to conduct a literature review of Service-Learning in allopathic undergraduate medical education in the United States. Rodriguez also worked closely with Dr. Berkowitz to research the global health programs of other U.S. medical schools. 

“This internship was very helpful in furthering both my professional and academic goals because it really solidified my interest in pursuing a career in medicine, and really made me interested in learning more about community engagement and my role in creating a community of care and collaboration,” said Rodriguez. She also shared that her internship work greatly influenced her senior thesis on the history of the community health movement in Boston.

As for Bhargava, he spent his summer creating a four-year curriculum map for KPSOM focused on addressing health disparities through the implementation of narrative medicine and medical humanities. While he described the project as “daunting” at first glance, Dr. Gowda helped educate him on various narrative medicine concepts and took time to explain lesson planning, curriculum development, and diversity and inclusion implementation in medical education.

Mentorship is a key component of KPSOM’s internship programs and participating students were able to make the most of their respective experiences while forging new relationships with faculty, staff, and students. 

While interning at KPSOM, Castillo-Sahagun was mentored by Dr. Berkowitz who provided her case studies and connected her to those who could help support her medical school endeavors. She also had check-ins with Dean Connelly during her summer internship and she stayed in touch with her mentors even after the completion of her internship. During their connects, Castillo-Sahagun was able to share more about how she was doing, the work she found interesting, and her desire to continue supporting equity work in global health and medicine as a future physician.

Rodriguez was also mentored by Dean Connelly who oversaw the progress of her literature review, facilitated meet and greets with other Service-Learning faculty members, and invited Rodriguez to varied meetings, workshops, and Service-Learning clinic site visits to deepen her understanding of community-engaged learning.

King says he received a wealth of support from KPSOM faculty, staff, and students such as Dean Willies-Jacobo, his supervisor and career development mentor; Dr. Adrienne Bratcher, former KPSOM Assistant Professor; Erin Pullin, Director of EID; Nicole Lawson, KPSOM Faculty Director of Inclusive Curriculum and Assistant Professor; Carol Rojas, KPSOM EID Analyst; Makeen Yasar, former KPSOM EID Coordinator and King’s day-to-day mentor; Iesha Ticknor, a KPSOM third-year medical student with whom King worked closely, and many others. “Each of them was thoroughly invested in my growth as a pre-med student, a scholar, and a health advocate,” said King.

Ayiah worked closely with her supervisors Dean Willies-Jacobo and Yasar, as well as Lori Carter-Edwards, PhD, MPH, KPSOM Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Government Affairs, who helped her learn more about what community engagement looks like in medicine through site visits. She said their mentorship opened her eyes to different ways medical education can extend outside of the classroom.

Many of our interns learned or expanded their qualitative research skills by building databases and benchmark assessments and analyzing curricula. Several interns worked closely with KPSOM Librarians and others on literature search/review skills. Varied KPSOM faculty and staff also provided each intern additional resources to assist with their respective projects and shared valuable project guidance along with their general knowledge of the medical field.

The students’ constant collaboration with school stakeholders on special projects helped each to learn new skills and gain hands-on exposure to those working in the medical field. For example, Castillo-Sahagun was able to broaden her skills in communications and public speaking by working on a presentation for Dean Schuster that compared the global health programs of major medical schools and contrasted that information with the recommended KPSOM global health program.

King said the most valuable skills he learned from his internship were the importance of storytelling in medicine as well as knowing your “why” for becoming a doctor and bringing one’s personal mission into interpersonal interactions. He learned this helps facilitate real connection, trust, and mutual understanding. Similarly, Levine said she gained extensive listening and communication skills in collaborating with school stakeholders and improved her writing skills through a literature review and paper Dean Carter-Edwards oversaw. 

“One perspective that I will certainly carry with me as I practice medicine is that the patients know themselves better than anyone and that earning trust and giving weight to what they say is key to practicing medicine,” said Levine. “It was an honor to work for a medical institution that values the health of its surrounding communities and is pushing to have a strong and inclusive medical education.”

Levine found her internship with the OCE to be both fulfilling and informative. She used the opportunity to learn about community engagement in medical education, meet with community stakeholders, and conduct site visits. She also received pertinent advice and professional development guidance from varied KPSOM faculty, including her mentors Deans Carter-Edwards, Connelly, and Willies-Jacobo.

Through her internship, Ayiah said she gained a better understanding of how to champion equity and inclusion within different workspaces and she bolstered her research skills. This came in handy when she began her senior thesis shortly after the completion of her internship.

“My internship at KPSOM was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Bhargava. “My experience allowed me to realize that there is great potential for using education to advance social justice in the medical field. Working in the Office of Medical Education has broadened my vision of possible opportunities for working at the intersection of social justice, education, and health. I never thought that I would be able to make an impact on a medical school curriculum as an undergraduate student, but Dr. Gowda and all of the amazing mentors I worked with made me realize that I had the potential to help push for health equity through curriculum development and advocacy.” 

These former KPSOM interns all recommended these internship opportunities to others interested in mentorship, professional development, health equity, and opportunities to make a lasting impact on the culture and practices of a new, evolving medical school. Each intern also stated they benefited from collaborating with accomplished KPSOM faculty members who invest deeply in student growth and development.

“As a result of this internship, I broadened my idea of what a career in medicine could look like and [it] bolstered my understanding of what I hope to do in the field,” said Ayiah as she succinctly summed up her time as a KPSOM intern.