Conversation starter: Building communication skills in health care internship

Emma Riglin
July 15, 2019

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles about students in the College of Information Sciences and Technology completing internships this summer.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. When looking for technology-based positions, one likely wouldn’t expect to find the term "conversation starter" in the job description. But that’s exactly how College of Information Sciences and Technology senior Alex Blough describes his main duties in his internship at Mount Nittany Medical Center (MNMC).

Blough, along with 20 other information services interns at MNMC — including several others from the College of IST — is tasked with training medical professionals and their patients on a new centralized health care information system. In this role, he communicates directly with physicians and patients to help them understand the platform and to answer their questions.

Blough said that his Penn State experiences as a campus tour guide and a Lion Scout helped to prepare him for these encounters.

“Those positions got me out of my comfort zone, and I found a way to feel comfortable when all eyes are on me,” said Blough. “The most important thing to me is to be the conversation starter and to ask questions to figure out what needs to be done. I found that being the one to ask people what is wrong and figuring out what they want done is a great skill to pick up."

In his internship, Blough is also applying the education he’s earning as a security and risk analysis (SRA) major in the College of IST. The center’s new health care information system will hold all patient information and allow patients to manage their care online, including checking in for appointments, ordering prescriptions, and viewing their medical history.

Thanks to the SRA curriculum, Blough understands the logistics of the software, which will improve security and privacy of patient information through a universal system.

Blough is also responsible for working with other interns and staff to find bugs in the system, fix problems that arise in the software, and offer potential solutions.

“The College of IST helped me come into the internship looking for challenges and being able to work in a group setting,” he said. “The whole internship is like working on a semester-long project where you need to work with the team to develop the best way to go about things.”

As he plays a small part in an extensive transition, Blough feels fortunate to be a part of such a large, important project.

“Even though I am just helping the providers transition over to the new system, it can make a huge impact on a customer's experience at the office,” he said.

While Blough is utilizing his College of IST education to make an impact in the health care industry, he advises other students to consider the vast number of domains where they can apply their technical skills. Many of these opportunities can be found through the college’s Office of Career Solutions and Corporate Engagement, where Blough first learned about his internship. 

“Put yourself out there,” he concluded. “You will never know if you want a job in that field if you don't go out and experience it for yourself.”

Last Updated July 16, 2019