Life-Health Sciences Internship surging through 10th anniversary

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Left to right: Dr. Jingyun Wang (mentor, ophthalmology), Scott O'Brien (ophthalmology), Mellisa Hege (Life-Health Sciences intern in 2014-15), Paxton Ott (LHSI 2014-15). Brandi Gilbert, LHSI

A decade ago, Pankita Pandya was a sophomore sitting in one of her science classes at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis when she heard some news about a research internship opportunity.

"No one really knew much about it," she recalled. "But I was already interested in medicine, and I figured in between classes that it would be good to see if this was going to be a full-time career opportunity."

She applied and was accepted for an internship in the IU School of Medicine's neuroscience department. Fast-forward to today, when she's a postdoctoral fellow at IUSM -- in a sense, never leaving after her internship.

"When I finished my undergrad, I applied for the Ph.D. program at the School of Medicine," Pandya said. "I already knew the campus, so I decided to stick around."

There are hundreds more of this kind of success story in the Life-Health Sciences Internship Program at IUPUI, now in its 10th year. Pandya was part of the first class of 35 interns; today, there are 75. Students do their internships over an entire academic year while still taking classes.

The program will officially recognize its 10-year mark at the Life-Health Sciences Internship Program Poster Session and 10-Year Celebration from 3 to 5 p.m. April 28 in the University Tower Ballroom.

So much is to be celebrated. Students who complete the program remain in school at much higher rates, and they have invaluable experience come graduation time for whatever path they choose next.

And applications have increased annually -- this year there were 261 applications, up from 197 the year before -- with help from student ambassadors who have held the internships.

"That has been a big deal," said Brandi Gilbert, the program's director. "They've done it, and their ideas of how they've experienced it help shape what else we do."

Students from 30 different majors have applied to work in more than 60 internship sites. Mentor schools include the IU School of Medicine, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, School of Dentistry, School of Nursing, Fairbanks School of Public Health, and School of Optometry.

"We just thought it was an excellent program," said mentor Sharon Cromer of the Clinical and Translational Research Institute, who has been involved since the program's first year. "We get students up to 10 hours a week, and they learn the clinical research process. It's really a program that helps a student determine 'yes, I love this' or 'I like this, and I want to go on a different path.'"

During the 2008-09 school year, James Wilcox got the internship with the Bowen Center for Health Workforce Research and Policy, doing epidemiology research for the state government. He learned that it was important for doctors in Indiana to visit rural areas, and now he's in rural health training and preparing to practice in tiny Austin, Indiana.

"LHSI research was integral in what I'm doing now," he said.