Education to Employment: My internship at ICHP

As part of the Employ Autism scheme run by Ambitious About Autism, in partnership with the University of Westminster, Salma Abdi joined ICHP for an eight-week internship this year. Reflecting on World Autism Acceptance Week, she reflects on her time at ICHP and the benefits of bridging the gap between education and employment.

In January, I was lucky enough to achieve a place with the Employ Autism internship at Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP), the Health Innovation Network for North West London. My eight weeks with the organisation have been extremely beneficial, both giving me the opportunity to gain some real-world office experience, as well as strengthening my interpersonal skills. Both of which I may have struggled to obtain otherwise – currently only 29% of autistic people are in any form of employment.

Coming straight from graduating at the University of Westminster in Biochemistry, I was looking for an opportunity to further develop my skills, both professionally and personally. Working at ICHP and having the opportunity to get hands on in a number of projects has been both positive for my development and really interesting. One particular workstream I’ve focused on during my time at ICHP has been the North West London Mission to optimise care for long-term disease, starting with Cardiovascular Disease. I’ve been able to see the amazing work happening in this area, as full as further innovations that could be implemented, scaled or spread,  to reduce health events such as heart attacks and strokes. 

I was also lucky enough to assist with an Innovation Forum for this project, bringing together healthcare professionals, charities, innovators and more, which provided an opportunity to work on my project management skills. It was such valuable real-world experience to be able to contribute to the design and delivery of an event of both this scale and importance – which I simply wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. It also  really opened my eyes to the world of project management, which I didn’t have any experience of before. Alongside this, working on core skills such as communication, collaboration, time-management and adaptability to change has been vital. I’ve had the opportunity to hone some of these skills through tasks such as liaising with external stakeholders through a mix of both in-person and remote interactions, which has really helped build my confidence.

I’ve also really valued being active in a diverse workplace, connecting with individuals from a number of health and non-health related backgrounds. It’s been really interesting to start to understand the number of ways to be involved with healthcare to benefit the public. Working with such a variety of colleagues across the company has allowed me to develop both my administrative and corporate skills further, and given me some real-world experience of some really core organisational skills such as setting up meetings, diary management, event organisation and setting up and managing stakeholder trackers and spreadsheets for others to use.

Lucie Wellington, Senior Innovation Advisor at ICHP and Salma’s Line Manager, shared:

The whole Employ Autism process has been fantastic. As an employee of an organisation that is a part of the scheme, I was able to attend training on supporting employees with autism, delivered via Ambitious About Autism, which was incredibly helpful and informative. This training enabled me to provide Salma with the right support and guidance she needed to excel at ICHP. Salma’s fresh viewpoints, and university experience added insights to our ICHP programmes that we wouldn’t have gained elsewhere. I look forward to seeing what Salma does next in her career and how we at ICHP can further support neurodiverse young people into employment.”

Undoubtedly this internship has been extremely beneficial for me, having just left university with no real-world office experience. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of my university experience itself and the skills I would have learnt through visits, lab experiences and events I was unable to do. I’m extremely glad I was able to take part in this opportunity and incredibly grateful to everyone at ICHP for being kind and welcoming during my time. I would like to also thank Lucie for being a great manager and her invaluable advice on how to be more confident and forthcoming with my ideas.

I am looking forward to using all of the skills that I have learnt at ICHP to grow as an individual and hopefully make a change!

 Employ Autism, was first developed by the Youth Patrons of Ambitious about Autism in 2015, as a campaign to increase employment opportunities for autistic people. By creating opportunities for autistic individuals to thrive, they aim to remove the disparities which autistic individuals face within the workplace.