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An Intern State of Mind

by Jessica Myers, Public Relations Intern, athenahealth

Ten weeks ago, I had maxed out on all my techniques of preparation. I had my commuting schedule perfectly timed. My bag was packed with all the first-day essentials: gum, phone charger, pens. I had deciphered, finally, what “business casual” means. I was as ready as I’d ever be.

But as I quickly discovered, and have since embraced, interning at athenahealth isn’t founded upon a principle of preparation. Rather, it seems to rely on the opposite. athena’s summer internship program challenges you, asks you: How well can you handle surprises and un-expectations, both those you prepared for and those you did not? If you swing and miss, can you pull yourself back up and try again?

This isn’t my first rodeo.  Throughout both my undergraduate and graduate career, I’ve been lucky to have a handful internships and to be part of organizations doing important work. But there’s something different about athena's internship program that sets it apart from my past forays.

At the end of orientation, we were given shirts promoting athena’s new movement to “Unbreak Healthcare”—nine hours into my summer internship, and I was already a critical component of an industry-wide campaign. It was a staggering thought, but also its own version of an invitation. “Playtime is over,” it seemed to suggest. “Let’s get to work.”

It’s been a summer of immersion: toeing the edge of the high dive, fleetingly, before jumping fifteen feet deep. As Jonathan Bush wrote in his blog advising new grads, “Healthcare is in a constant state of flux, and as a result, we need people who are flexible and can do what needs doing.” The summer internship program follows in suit with this flux: flexibility is the only thing that can allow for shifts in hours, last-minute team meetings, and bonding exercises that take up an entire afternoon. Fixing healthcare is not easy and it does not follow a schedule; for ten weeks I have traversed the Watertown campus and met with many different teams in an effort to follow and learn the changing landscape of healthcare.

In this way, the nature of athena’s work is what inspires its attitude toward its culture. The atmosphere of inclusion and discussion that saturates the company is palpable, both work and culture melding into one dynamic and motivated mission.

Here, frustrations and concerns aren’t discussed in hushed tones over lunch breaks, managers whispering words of warning while stabbing at their salads. Instead, conversations about company-wide issues occur between senior management and entry-level associates without hesitation. When I walk through the hallways of other buildings, I can’t tell the difference between visitors, interns, directors, and senior leaders. This depletion of hierarchy, while always aspired to, is rarely achieved—just one more thing that makes this internship program so unique.

When I asked Evan O’Meara, senior manager of recruiting, to sum up the summer internship program in one sentence, the answer he gave matched the feeling that I’d sensed on the first day of orientation, in my “Unbreak” t-shirt: “We’re trying to build the future of athena by showing the business the best of the talent and showing the interns the best of athena.” Interns aren’t seen as free labor, helping to fill in the gaps during a busy summer season. Instead, we’re products of a “strategic talent generator,” hired for keeps, to learn from, teach, and contribute to the company at large.

The summer internship program, formalized since 2013 but existing much longer, shows no signs of stopping. As the company continues to grow, the recruiting team will cast a wider net, attending more diverse conferences and consortiums, scouring students from coast to coast. As long as healthcare remains broken, athena will need original ideas and fresh creativity to fight the good fight—and once it’s fixed, we’ll need to work to keep it fixed.

Ten weeks ago, I had maxed out on all my techniques of preparation. In the end, they all fell quickly, one by one, to the wayside—my train and shuttle schedule continues to change, my pens have found homes on the desks of many others, and my constant stash of gum is a thing of the past. What took the place of preparation, however, is a much more valuable sense of urgency, the energizing notion that I am, perhaps, truly doing something that makes a difference within the company, something that will help to one day fix healthcare—and I have loved every moment of this unexpected whirlwind.

Jessica Myers graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor's Degree in English (Honors).  She is currently interning at athenahealth while working on her Master's degree in English at Northeastern University.

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