Student lives classroom lessons with internship
By Liz McCarthy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-2848
Marie Morrissette first decided on her career choice in physical therapy as an active young athlete in high school. But her recent experience has cemented that decision for the USC senior and now she’s dedicated her summer to getting hands-on experience in a field that has come to mean a lot to her personally.
Morrissette was always an active kid, playing soccer and softball. She trained for marathons with her father, who is one of her inspirations for staying fit and healthy. Then, earlier this year, Morrissette’s father was diagnosed with a sarcoma, or a soft tissue cancer. Doctors amputated his left leg to remove the cancer faster. Now he is working with physical therapists to relearn how to walk.
“Through those events it has really reaffirmed that I want to work with people to help them get up and moving,” she says. “I’ve seen such great strides with him through physical therapy.”
This summer Morrissette, an exercise science student in the Arnold School of Public Health, is helping patients like her father as a physical therapy extern at Providence Hospitals in Columbia.
“I work with both physical and occupational therapists,” she says. “I do whatever they need me to do whether it’s set up the room, clean up the rooms when they are done, getting patients out of bed and getting them walking.”
Morrissette’s personal experience not only has kept her on track toward her career goal, but it’s given her valuable experience in her internship.
“Seeing the progress he’s made has made me want to do this job that much more. I want to help people get back to living a normal life,” she says. “I can sympathize with the patients. I’ve seen how hard it is and even though my dad is really fit, it’s been extremely challenging for him. It solidified that this career choice was a good one for me.”
Tom Halasz, director of USC’s Career Center, says that’s one of the big reasons why internships are so important for college students – it helps them make better decisions.
“We know students that get experiences are more competitive for opportunities as they have a resume with information on it and they can speak in an interview with some authority about the business or industry,” Halasz says. “As important, in my mind, is that if a student has those experiences, they make a better decision.”
Recent studies have shown that having an experiential education opportunity, which includes out-of-classroom learning opportunities like an internship or co-op, increases the likelihood of a student finding post-graduate employment.
But, Halasz points out, that doesn’t just apply to employment. Experiences like the one Morrissette is having at the hospital can also impact a student’s post-graduate educational opportunities.
“The key is the students are knowledgeable about their choices and they make better choices,” he says. “People wonder why students going to professional schools need internships. If you’re going to make a good decision about your career, you need to have some experience.”
The Office of Pre-Professional Advising works with students looking to go into the medical field, for example, to get this kind of experience, Halasz says. Although these students won’t need to seek employment until after finishing graduate school, they will make better decisions and be more competitive by having undergraduate internship experience, he says.
Last academic year the Career Center posted 976 internship opportunities for students of all majors, something the center’s outreach to employers has been instrumental in increasing.
“Internships give students a clearer sense of direction,” Halasz says. “A student going on to graduate school has a sense of direction based on academic experience, which is important. That experience outside the classroom provides even more direction and in my thinking, a sense of confidence about that decision as well.”
Morrissette’s experience at the hospital so far supports Halasz’s thinking. It has already helped her define what steps she wants to take in her career. She has decided she prefers out-patient work, which can involve more problem solving techniques, to in-patient work, she says.
“I think a lot of students that go into physical therapy don’t realize just how much work and effort it takes to really be a physical therapist,” she says. “It’s nice for me to see that especially in the hospital setting.”
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