Knox Student Gains Experience During Hospital Internship

Abby Owens plans to pursue a career as a health care executive

November 08, 2010

Knox College junior Abby Owens, who wants a career as a hospital administrator, says an internship  with a Galesburg health-care provider gave her a chance to learn "what it takes to run a hospital."

A native of Grinnell, Iowa, she spent 10 weeks working as a summer intern at OSF St. Mary Medical Center. The 99-bed acute care hospital serves people in a seven-county area in west central Illinois.

"It was a great experience. There's always something going on," said Owens, an economics major who also has minors in business and management, and anthropology and sociology. After graduating from Knox, she plans to attend graduate school for further studies in health care administration or public health.

She started off her internship by shadowing managers from different hospital departments, such as human resources, marketing, and emergency care. Later, she tackled projects dealing with patient safety and patient care. For example, she was part of a team that is designing and updating an orientation booklet for new hospital patients.

"Mostly, I was getting hands-on experience and learning what it takes to run a hospital," she said. "It was interesting to see how everything comes together."

She observed some surgical procedures, including a three-hour spleen removal during which she stood the entire time -- just as members of a surgical team must do. Owens also watched a procedure known as an "upper GI endoscopy," where a long and flexible tube is inserted down a patient's esophagus. A tiny video camera on the tube enables doctors to examine the patient's upper digestive, or gastrointestinal, system.

"What amazed me was how many people had something to do," she said. "Six or seven people were in the room, all with a role."

Owens learned about the internship opportunity not long after meeting Richard Kowalski, OSF St Mary's president and chief executive officer, at an event coordinated by the Knox College Center for Career & Pre-Professional Development.

Around the same time, she took an economics class called The Business of Health, taught by Carol Scotton, a Knox assistant professor of economics and business and management.

"It opened my eyes," Owens said. "I knew I wanted to do something in health care, and the business side really intrigued me. I realized it was a way to make sure that every patient was being helped and their needs were being met."

She made an appointment with Kowalski, and they talked for a couple of hours about the hospital, his job, and his professional and educational background.

"He told me it's never a boring job. It's always changing," she said. "And there's always going to be a need for health care."

Kowalski serves on Knox's Business Advisory Council, business leaders who volunteer their time to assist Knox students interested in business careers. For each of the past four years, he has chosen one or two Knox students to work as summer interns at OSF St. Mary's. The first was Erica Jaffe, a 2008 Knox graduate who recently was elected to the Knox College Board of Trustees. The second was Garry Barton, a 2009 Knox graduate and George Washington Gale Scholar.

"We try to expose (the students) to as much of the institution as we can," Kowalski said. "They get very engaged. They get very involved. Every one that we've had has been very good, and everyone enjoyed having them around."

He is pleased with Owens' plan to pursue a career as a health care executive, saying: "We need good, bright people in this field."