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Got a back-burner project? He’s got a light

by Barb Boose No Comments

We all have them: those worthy projects on our to-do lists we can’t seem to get started, much less completed. Marilyn Alger, education coordinator for the Iowa Department of Public Health, and her colleagues found a way to finish one of theirs that’s now serving the entire department and their profession.

It started a year ago when Alger’s duties in training, recruiting and retaining IDPH’s 450 employees pushed her desire to revamp its internship program to a back burner. Ironically, the solution was an intern: James Machamer, then a student in DMU’s master of health care administration program who needed an internship for his degree. He partnered with Alger and staff of the Iowa Center for Public Health Preparedness in the University of Iowa College of Public Health to create a brochure and then, as his capstone project, a full-blown online course to train public health staff on utilizing interns.

Alger has since shared the course with IDPH bureau chiefs; the board of the Iowa Public Health Association, the professional organization for Iowa’s public health community; and the Upper Midwest Public Health Training Center, which serves public health professionals and students in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. She says Machamer’s seven-module course trains staff and transforms perceptions.

“When we changed the question from ‘Can you take on an intern?’ to ‘Do you have any projects you haven’t had time to do?’, of course everyone nods their heads,” Alger notes. “In the past, people thought of working with interns as ‘It’s more work for me.’ We’re encouraging them to see that it’s a way to get more help.”

That’s especially valuable as state budgets shrink and hiring gets frozen while the demand for services continues. Training interns also helps fill the future public health workforce, Alger adds.

That made the project compelling to Machamer, who completed his DMU degree last summer. He’s now a health professions investigator at IDPH, where he processes and investigates complaints and allegations relating to the practice of medicine. “What was important to me was to help even one person – a department employee, a student or one of my peers – realize their purpose,” he says. “Internships can help that happen.”

Last year IDPH began issuing challenge coins – historically, small medallions given by organizations to honor allegiance to a mission or cause – to recognize and thank outstanding interns. Appropriately, Machamer was the department’s first challenge coin recipient.

“I hope the course I helped create serves the department for a long time,” he says.

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