A social network is enabling medical students to gain supported experience in non-clinical environments to boost their leadership skills, write Harpreet Sood, Claire Lemer and Emma Stanton.

With the increasing focus on improving patient care through management and leadership, these skills have become core attributes for all doctors, irrespective of seniority. Yet the process of developing these disciplines remains buried amid busy medical school curricula.

As a student, Harpreet Sood wanted to organise a medical management-oriented internship, but found it challenging to organise without the “right contacts”. Potential host companies were also uncertain about how to manage and what to do with interns, some expressing scepticism about the rationale for medical students seeking exposure to work in a non-clinical business environment.

Eventually, Harpreet was able to get several summer internships by networking and meeting people. Realising that other medical students could be struggling in similar ways, Harpreet sought to create a network where medical students with high potential could gain access to such internships. The opportunity arrived through Diagnosis, a social enterprise developing medical involvement in clinical leadership and management, set up by Claire Lemer and Emma Stanton. 

Through Diagnosis “salons” – networking talks held at The King’s Fund in London – Harpreet connected with several senior leaders outside healthcare delivery environments who were interested in taking on medical students as interns.

From this was born the Diagnosis Internship Network, which was set up in October 2010 with a pilot scheme providing six placements for medical students to develop leadership and management skills in healthcare-related organisations. The goal was to foster cross-sector learning and awareness of the broader health care eco-system from an early stage in medical training.

Exposing medical students to various stakeholders in the healthcare arena from an early stage in their training imbues a wider appreciation of the opportunities and levers to improve healthcare – this is one of DIN’s key aims. It also provides a platform to learn about politics, business and good practice from the host companies and to bring this learning back into the NHS.

Feedback from our partners reinforces the view that students who are self-starters and entrepreneurially minded excel in their placements. As well as allowing students to gain the experience they desire, the internship programme also allows students to develop a supportive peer network.

The current portfolio of placements includes management consultancy firms with a strong presence in healthcare, such as KPMG and Candesic, multinational healthcare corporations such as Bupa, healthcare journalism (including HSJ), technology firms, such as Doccom and Patients Know Best, and charities, such as Macmillan.

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Internships are advertised online via our website, LinkedIn and Twitter groups, as well as through our email database of candidates who have expressed interest. DIN also has links with the growing number of medical management societies emerging at universities nationally. 

Applicants must display an interest in health management and policy, evidence of problem solving and decision making, teamwork, organisation and planning, plus excellent communication skills.

All interns must complete a pre-internship survey to assess their current skills and knowledge of health leadership, policy and management. The calibre of students applying tends to be extraordinarily strong and highly competitive. 

Successful shortlisted candidates have their application emailed to potential employers, who then select their preferred intern(s) through an interview process. Some prefer us to select a candidate for them, so we send the best matched candidate.

Once selected, the interns agree the dates and duration of their placement with their hosts. Most are carried out during the summer holidays and for a minimum of four weeks, which is essential to making the most of the learning opportunities.

Through DIN, we have created a framework for organisations to follow if they are unsure on how best to work with interns and the learning opportunity they can provide. The framework involves being exposed to business skills such as interview preparation, project management, understanding company culture and work ethic, having performance reviews and formal or informal training in computer software. Skills that are not formally taught at medical school.

After their placement, interns write a blog on their experience, published on our website. They could also present their work to a group to develop their presentation skills. Interns also complete an exit survey on what they have learnt and how well they rate their knowledge on health leadership, policy and management.

Interns who have completed their placements have measurably enhanced their leadership competencies, as defined by the Medical Leadership Competency Framework. These skills complement the students’ clinical training and ability to lead patient safety and quality initiatives, as well as raising awareness of organisational structure and the influence of politics and business.

During our second year we placed 15 students. This year, DIN is expanding due to increasing demand. There is much to be gained from incorporating greater cross-sector learning into medical training.

Our goal through DIN is to enable more students to gain supported experience in non-clinical environments that can be linked to healthcare.

Case study: ‘a unique opportunity’

Adam Gwozdz took part in an internship with KPMG in a health advisory role.

“I had the opportunity to join the health advisory team at KPMG for four weeks. It would have been very easy for KPMG to limit my involvement to shadowing a consultancy team for the duration of my internship. 

Instead, I was immediately introduced to the team that I would be working with and spent my first day in various meetings learning about the project objectives and my role within the team in completing them. 

By being given a specific role, I was able to learn a great deal about the project, which involved an acute services review within the NHS, and how real changes were implemented in the NHS.

There were also many lessons to learn about leadership and management that seemed foreign to a medical student like me, but are commonplace in the world of consultancy.

I had many opportunities to apply these skills by participating in conference calls, workshops, and face-to-face meetings with project leaders, medical professionals, and NHS managers.

My project responsibilities included assembling a literature review of best practice evidence that focused on both clinical and management practices, to ensure that future proposals incorporated the most up-to-date national and international published evidence and guidelines.

In this particular case, the assembled document was applied to the case for change, and was discussed in detail at various client meetings. I found the exercise extremely helpful in learning how to identify and implement change within a structured organisation.

Overall, I had a great experience, and I would recommend taking this unique opportunity to learn about consultancy, and management and gain transferable skills from an incredibly talented group of people.”

Find out more

Medical students or companies wishing to become involved in the DIN should contact diagnosisinternshipnetwork@gmail.com