Internship program gives high schoolers a close look at nursing

Three Commack high school seniors are getting a head start on their careers in nursing.

"The students have been to intervention radiology, the emergency department, they spent time on our oncology floor," Huntington Hospital assistant director of nursing Melinda Leite said.

Five days a week for a little over an hour each day, you can find them in different departments at Huntington Hospital as part of an internship with Wilson Tech. The students are learning about what it takes to become a nurse by shadowing the staff — all while keeping up with their high school workload. 

"I learned everything from talking to patients, setting a sterile field, prepping a tube and how to take medicine out of a vial," intern Claire Varghese said. 

Since September, the students, chosen based on their grades and interests, have gained respect for the profession and feel even more confident in their decision to pursue nursing.

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"I got to see a C-section, the birth of a baby," intern Olivia Owens said. "It's an incredible experience to learn. I want to get it before I go to nursing school."

The Huntington Hospital Nursing Internship Program has been going on for 18 years. In that time, the hospital has hired close to 20 nurses from the program. But now, because of the nursing shortage, creating a pipeline is more important than ever before.

Healthcare officials have found the COVID-19 pandemic only intensified the nursing shortage and they don't see an end to it any time soon.

"We have to do things to spark some interest and get people into the profession," chief nursing officer Susan Knoepffler said. "Healthcare advances have people living longer, people on the cusp of retirement are leaving early. We have burnout."

Out of the some 600 nurses at Huntington Hospital, the internship comes full circle for a select few alumni.

"It's great to see these young students come here and be enthusiastic and know when we're ready to retire, these intelligent people are coming to fill our spots in the world of nursing," said Carol Cherwinski, the nurse manager for interventional radiology.

They're geared up and ready to make a difference.

"Nurses are heroes," intern Avery Baker said.