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The Power of Internships: My Experience at Imperial College Health Partners

Joseph Valenti, who joined us as part of the Employ Autism programme via the University of Westminster, reflects on his time as an intern at Imperial College Health Partners and the importance of opportunities like this for neurodiverse individuals.

In January 2022, I began my internship at Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP), as part of the Employ Autism programme. As I come to the end of my experience, I’ve been reflecting on some of the personal and professional skills I’ve gained, as well as the significance of providing professional opportunities to underrepresented communities.

Reflecting on what I personally gained through my internship

My time at ICHP has undoubtedly been rewarding.

As a biomedical student at the University of Westminster, I am passionate about understanding the intricacies of medical research, and about how healthcare is managed and provided across different settings. After noticing an advert for the internship role at ICHP posted on my university’s employability platform, I leapt at the opportunity and was successful in getting the position.

One professional area I was keen to develop during my time at ICHP was my communication skills,both written and verbal.

I led on producing a number of communication resources, including for the launch of an Early Intervention Programme for young people with Eating Disorders (called FREED) at West London NHS Trust. This project challenged me to communicate concisely. Each resource required different elements of information to be conveyed, often to different audiences. I created leaflets to be shared with the referring partners, and slide decks for two webinar launches.

I also had to exercise my communication skills as a breakout room facilitator during a Care Home Patient Safety Network meeting. This event served as a platform to discuss advancements on the use of Dementia identification tools, as well as exchange views on improved management of deterioration in non-acute healthcare settings. The experience massively improved my confidence in communication. Going into this new experience, admittedly anxious, I was aware of the dynamic nature of facilitation, and how important it was to keep my breakout group on track with topical discussions. I had to identify key themes, and efficiently scribe and curate a report expressing these ideas. This experience challenged my ability to assert myself, whilst also gathering often-complex ideas into a short, impactful report.

I was proud of these pieces of work and felt they genuinely contributed towards creating change and impact for patients and services users in our local area, which was highly rewarding for me. These examples, whilst only a snapshot of what I experienced throughout my internship, gave me a huge boost of confidence in my personal communication style, overcoming my self-doubt and leaving me feeling more empowered and confident in communicating with new people.

The importance of internships

My internship, 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.

Ambitious about Autism believe in a future where autistic individuals can be themselves and realise their potential. By creating opportunities for autistic individuals to thrive, they aim to remove the disparities which autistic individuals face within the workplace. Alarmingly, only 21.7% of those with autism are currently in employment, representing the lowest rate of employment in all disabled groups. Championed by the University of Westminster and funded by Santander UK, ICHP were keen to be involved through their Anchor Institutions workstream, part of their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) group. Anchor Institutions are large public sector organisations which focus on providing long-term improvements to the health and wellbeing of the communities they serve. ICHP’s ED&I group supports these ambitions.

ICHP’s ED&I group have also provided opportunities for other underrepresented individuals, notably the HDRUK Black internships. Through the provision of equality and inclusivity, collaboration, recognition, and championing of change, great things can be achieved. Not only have I personally felt able to improve my skillset which will empower me for future roles, more importantly, it supports the Ambitious about Autism goals of creating an even playing field for all.

The importance of diversity

In any work environment, diversity is crucial. Individuals from different backgrounds, whether that be of nationality, neurodiversity and/or sexual and gender identity, can provide unique and valuable perspectives. This is important not only internally for colleagues, but for the quality of our external work and how we impact our local system.

Simply put, creating more opportunities for underrepresented communities not only facilitates the personal development of such individuals, it also reduces stigmatisation.

The mutual benefit of internships

The highly dynamic nature of Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) organisations, such as ICHP, challenged my ability to workdynamically. This flexibility in my contribution to projects, as well as providing administrative and operational support, was valuable to ICHP, whilst the ability to multi-task and prioritise is a skill that I have developed. However, my passion to uphold the high impact quality of ICHP certainly felt recognised via the wonderful and supportive workforce.

I asked Charlotte Douglas, Innovation Advisor at ICHP and my mentor during my internship, what she felt ICHP gained from the Employ Autism programme. She said:

 “ICHP wanted to support young people from under-represented communities into meaningful employment through Internship positions. The Employ Autism programme is a brilliant programme to do just this.

Joseph created high-impact, high-quality work which genuinely contributed to the on-going projects at ICHP. It felt like Joseph had always been a part of the team, he slotted in straight away, we benefitted greatly from Joseph’s pro-active contributions to ICHP, sharing his own personal perspectives, experiences, and recommendations. We hope that Joseph will be able to take what he has learnt back to University and beyond with him. We will really miss having him at ICHP!”

My time at ICHP has come to a close, but I am excited to see where my new skills, and new experiences will take me next!