Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ending my internship

I am so sad to say, but my internship has come to a close. Twelve weeks FLEW by -- really flew by. I originally expected that my workload would slow down after the intern day (mentioned in my previous post), but one of the projects I was working on kicked into high gear, aiming to reach a milestone by the time I left.

So the last few weeks of my internship were spent on this side project, which actually took place of my main, original project. And it was great -- my supervisor was sure that I had tangible milestones from this project that I could write on my resume. And I did.

And with respect to the people and culture there, I have to say, they were great. It's sorta nice that, when you're leaving the place you worked at, people are sad to see you go (I mean, it's better than then being indifferent or telling you to not let the door hit you on the way out, right?). And it's actually nice if you're sad to go too -- to me, that means that you really enjoyed your stay there, and that it was a worthwhile experience. (And for me, it really was.) My supervisor and the small team we worked with took me out to lunch on one of my last days. We shared some laughs about how ridiculous my cubicle is (if you ever see me, ask me about my cubicle -- on my first day, before I even saw it, my supervisor was so apologetic about it that I knew it had to be bad). And it was just great to hang out with them not in a work setting.

It's funny -- I actually had a handful of lunches with the team (or subsets of other teams), but I got the impression that a lot of people at Blue Shield didn't have the opportunity as much as I did. And that my internship opened up a lot of avenues of information that I was privy to, that even full time employees weren't. Meeting top executives, learning about different areas of Blue Shield, hearing about new upcoming projects -- these were all things that I got a chance to experience, but others at BSC hadn't. So surprisingly, I discovered that being an intern does have its extra privileges.

By the end of my last day, I kept dawdling -- I didn't want to leave! I cleaned out my desk again and again, double-checked all my documents to make sure they were in place for the next round of work, etc. Multiple times! I was ending a great summer experience (meeting wonderful people, doing interesting work, and getting paid to do it!). But I knew that to move on, the internship had to end so I could get back to school and finish up this degree! So life goes on.

So the saddest part of the day was saying goodbye to my supervisor. I think you may have noticed a few references I made in this blog about my supervisor being awesome. But in case you hadn't, she is amazing. No, I didn't tear up -- but that was because I was desperately trying not to! She really cultivated an environment for me where I worked on tangible, meaningful projects, and was invited to meetings and events that interns normally aren't allowed. All the while, she was a great mentor and really knew how to manage people. But we promised to stay in touch, and I have no doubt we will. If you are lucky enough to have a great supervisor for your internship, I honestly feel that the battle is already more than half won.

So there you have it. Internship, done. Contacts and connections made, check! If you have any questions or want more details, feel free to let me know! You will see me walking around the new Gallagher Hall building this fall. Happy internship hunting!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Internship Presentation

One of the biggest milestones for most interns is the internship presentation. Usually, graduate-level interns make a presentation about their duties and responsibilities during the summer. Blue Shield was no different.

This year, instead of just having internship presentations, a whole day dedicated to the interns was created. Interns and their managers all trekked to the San Francisco headquarters location (including those working in southern California) for the day. The morning consisted of intern presentations from both graduate and undergraduate interns.

I was one of those graduate interns presenting. There was time for only about half of us to present, so when the time came for volunteers, I was quick to respond. My prompt was to talk about my internship and be creative, all within a 10-minute timeframe. One of my weaknesses is that I tend to make my presentations more informative (read: sort of boring and packed with info) rather than creative and fun. (Of course, the best presenter can combine the two aspects, but I’m certainly not there yet.) So, making my presentation creative and interesting was probably the hardest challenge. My compromise was putting in some cute clip art and talking about my internship more on a broad scale, rather than get bogged down in the details.

And I underestimated how nervous I’d be! The room was much more packed than I anticipated (about 40 people were there, including managers and recruiters, along with the interns). And not only was my supervisor there, but her supervisor and her supervisor’s supervisor (still with me?) were there, too. Oh, and so was a GSM alum, who interned at BSC and became a full-time employee upon graduation. All to see my presentation!

Well, overall, my presentation went well. I rushed through it a bit, but not bad overall. And my supervisor was sure to do the big nods of agreement as I was talking (always nice to see audience members nodding along when you’re presenting), and raised her hands up high to clap for me at the end. (In case you can’t tell, I was lucky enough to get a great supervisor for my internship.) So it ended well.

After lunch, we headed over to the Embarcadero YMCA to do some volunteer work. I was on a committee of interns to spearhead the community service aspect of the day, and had been coordinating our contact with the YMCA, so it was an exciting opportunity. Almost all of us (managers included!) went up to their roof to work on their rooftop garden, where we created – from scratch, mind you! – self-watering planter boxes. Drills, nails, and wooden boards galore. The YMCA staff was incredibly helpful in coordinating this opportunity, so much thanks to them.

After dinner, we all went down a few blocks and had dinner at Buca di Beppo, a family-style Italian restaurant. Overall, despite some nerves in the morning, it was a very fun day! In fact, word spread far -- for a good week afterwards, I had other employees coming up to ask me about that day and our activities.

Blue Shield is known for having a great internship program, and this day was very indicative of it. If you are lucky enough to be deciding among internship offers, be sure to ask about how they support their interns. How is their internship program set up? What activities do they offer? Are there opportunities for the interns to meet one another or learn about the company?

Applying schoolwork in the real world

Whenever I do informational interviews, I always am sure to ask if they have any recommendations about classes I should be taking, or any classes they found particularly useful. Specifically with GSM alums, I have found several recurring answers:

  • Decision-making and management science
  • Organizational behavior
  • Stats 2

Not to say that other classes weren’t mentioned, but these were definitely the top 3 I most commonly heard. I can’t speak about the Decision-making course since I haven’t taken it yet, but I have taken the latter two. And I agree – these were actually the two classes I have used the most in my internship.

I think that many of us go into the Organizational Behavior class thinking it will be focused on obvious aspects of the workplace, but we all – and I emphasize “all” because I haven’t heard any negative feedback about the class after we finished it – realized that it taught us far more than we expected. I am really glad that it’s a required course at the GSM. My only wish is that we had more required OB classes. Qualitative skills are often underappreciated, especially in business. But I digress!

Far and away, OB was the class that I have most utilized here. Understanding the organization’s culture, the roles people play, and how to best fit in and interact with the employees have all been invaluable. I use aspects of the course in my daily activities here.

And as for the Stats 2 recommendation – surprisingly, some aspects of statistics actually did come into play during my internship, even though I have more of a project management role. Blue Shield is very data-driven; decisions are usually based on data and analysis, so understanding how to read and interpret statistics is vital. Case in point, whenever a regression analysis is presented, I can follow right along. (Thank you, Professor Tsai!) So even if you know you won’t go into statistics or market research after graduation, take at least Stats 2 (and then take Stats 3 if you want to test your will and ability to stay up until 4am on Wednesday nights). You never know when it might come in handy.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pre-internship tips

Writing these entries would be easier if I could have done it as I went along. But since we only started these blogs more than halfway through our internships, I’m not sure whether I should jump back and talk about the beginning of the internship, or just write about what’s going on now.

I think that I’ll do a middle ground: I’ll do some earlier events and some current events. So let’s start with earlier events. Pre-internship, even! Some tips before you begin your internship:

1 month before your internship: Email your supervisor and ask if there’s anything you need to prepare for before your internship. (If you don’t know your supervisor, contact the recruiter and find out who it will be. If it’s still unassigned, ask your recruiter for any preparation tips.)

2 weeks before your internship: Start learning about your industry. (Really, you should start far before 2 weeks, but let’s be serious – finals are coming up, you’re looking for housing, you have to write 20-page papers for Stats 3 with Professor Tsai, etc.) Familiarize yourself with what the healthcare industry is. A good resource is the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation site, which gives great short articles on the basics of healthcare. Another good site is the Healthcare Blog, which gives up-to-the-minute updates on healthcare news.

And if you’re going into the healthcare side of the insurance industry, know what insurance is. Know the difference between a PPO and an HMO – at least. This is what everyone says. But note – I knew the difference between the two, so I thought I would hit the ground running with my internship. Ha! From day 1, I immediately saw that the insurance industry is incredibly complex – amazingly so. If you can, learn more about the insurance industry so you can easily say things like “capitation” and “DMHC” without batting an eye.

1 week before your internship: Contact your supervisor again with a quick note that lets them know you’re excited to start working, and update them on any preparation you’ve done. Ask about the dress code.

So, this is what you should do in theory. But what actually happened with me?

Well, I did email my supervisor a week before my internship to see if I needed to do anything. But I was woefully lacking in the other aspects. But other than that, in hindsight, I should have spent more time learning about the insurance industry (as I was already pretty familiar with healthcare). That way, my first week wouldn’t have been spent trying to find glossaries for terms and abbreviations that I didn’t understand. Oh well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Description of my internship

One thing that commonly occurs with internships is that the internship job description does not match your actual internship. This was not the case for me -- my job description matched my actual internship. (This was most likely due to a combination of luck and also careful, well-thought-out planning by my supervisor.)

Before I delve into the details, let me give some context to how my internship fits into the larger picture. My internship is with Blue Shield of California (BSC), in the Network Management department. This department manages BSC's network of medical providers and groups statewide. I work on a project under the Network Management department, called the "Regional Strategy" (RS) program. RS is tasked with finding cost savings in the system. (I should put in a note here: I'm vastly simplifying this context for the sake of ease-of-reading, but if you're interested in more detail, let me know.)

An example of cost savings would be realizing that BSC members are using a hospital for a certain type of procedure. However, across the street is a free-standing, fully certified clinic, which can perform the same procedure for less money. By channeling members to go to the cheaper clinic instead of the more expensive hospital for the same service, BSC can realize that difference in costs as savings.

So, how do projects focusing on savings come about? Here's the general process: during the summer, RS teams begin examining opportunities in their region to save healthcare costs. Usually by the end of the summer, the feasible projects are finalized, and the teams typically begin the projects the following year.

And so this brings me to my internship. My main duty this summer is to document and support the RS program for 2010. This entails supporting the RS teams in brainstorming ideas for savings, running reports to see potential opportunities, documenting potential projects and issues, and managing timelines to ensure that teams meet their milestones.

It's been a great opportunity, and I'm glad on many levels that I got this position. In my future posts, I'll talk more about my daily life as an intern at BSC.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Do you need healthcare experience to get a healthcare internship?

A common question I often heard during internship Q&A sessions was -- do you need healthcare experience to land a healthcare internship? My personal answer -- no, but it sure helps. If you do have healthcare experience, I feel that you have a leg up. The healthcare industry is amazingly complex (and to add the insurance aspect on top of it, as with Blue Shield -- whew!), so if you have hands-on experience with it, you are ahead of most. It is also often taken as tangible proof that you are interested in the industry.

But if you don't have healthcare experience, don't fret. Most people don't have healthcare experience, so if you don't have the background, it's not all lost. You may be missing that healthcare experience on your resume, but that doesn't mean that you can't prove that you're interested. Remember -- talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words. Prove to healthcare companies that you are interested in healthcare! Here are some ways to do so:

* Join a healthcare club (UC Davis has the BioBusiness club that you might find interesting)
* Volunteer at a nonprofit focused on health issues
* Specialize in public health for your MBA
* Take public health classes at UC Davis

Healthcare is a great industry to go into -- not only are you impacting the livelihood and health of people, but it's one of the few sectors that is anticipated to grow in the upcoming future (and may need leaders to usher in the proposed healthcare reform changes). It's an astoundingly complex and interesting field where you will have constant intellectual challenge.

So, in sum -- healthcare is a great field to look into. And don't worry if you don't have experience it it. When you are getting your MBA, employers often expect that you're looking to change careers, so you're actually in a good spot! What often tips the scales in your favor is showing enthusiasm -- regardless of whether you have healthcare experience or not, show employers that you're interested in healthcare!

Getting my internship

Hello! My name is Jackie, and I'm a 2nd-year MBA student at UC Davis, specializing in public health and strategic management. I'm excited to blog about my summer internship at Blue Shield of California, and hope that it may be helpful for anyone looking for a healthcare internship -- or even just an internship in general!

I'll start off by describing myself briefly and how I came about my internship at Blue Shield. First, about me -- before coming to UC Davis, I worked for the federal government in healthcare research. My job included the typical responsibilities you would expect for a research assistant: literature review and synthesis, assisting with grants and ethic review boards, and so forth. But my main duty was that of project manager. I coordinated the development and implementation of mental health projects for underserved populations. It was a fantastic learning experience, and it really solidified my interest in a healthcare career.

I decided that I wanted to stay in healthcare, but wanted to move towards the administration aspect of it. So as soon as I began orientation for b-school, I was focused on finding a summer internship that would allow me to explore the business side of the industry.

Part of what you learn about landing a good position is that it's part luck -- and I was no different. During one lunch event during orientation (before school even started!), a 2007 alum sat in a chair next to me; by the end of the lunch, he handed me his card and said that he'd be free if I ever wanted to learn more about Blue Shield. And thus, the ball began rolling for Blue Shield.

Five informational interviews with Blue Shield employees later, I knew I wanted to work at Blue Shield. I'll talk more about Blue Shield in later posts, but suffice to say for now, I knew that was the place for me. With my eyes set on the goal, I kept in touch throughout the year with the Blue Shield recruiter, scheduled informational interviews, and applied for an internship as soon as positions opened up. And by late March, I was accepted for a summer internship there!

In my upcoming posts, I'll talk more about my specific internship and Blue Shield. It's been a great experience, and I'm excited to talk more about it!