Article Date: 6/1/2009

Is That Internship a Good Choice?
Street Smarts

Is That Internship a Good Choice?

Here's how to choose an internship that will give you the best, well-rounded experience.

By Dan Beck, OD
Leland, N.C.

I WORK IN SEVERAL offices within my practice. While the mode of practice varies slightly, all of the offices use the same electronic medical records and follow the same standards of care. A few of the locations are internship sites. What's strange is that, even within the same practice, the experience the interns receive varies greatly.

Here's how their experiences differ and some practical advice on how to choose the right internship, so you'll get the best clinical experience.

Getting Their Feet Wet

One particular site in Wilmington, N.C. consists of three offices. Due to its close proximity to the beach, this site has great appeal to potential interns. The doctors, including myself, are flexible about allowing the students to get their feet wet in the exam lanes early in the internship process. We usually have students observe us for a day or so, and then we turn them loose. They spend a long time with patients and can get easily frustrated, but this is a great way for them to become independent and make decisions without a preceptor in the room.

Look But Don't Touch

In contrast, we have a much more conservative group of doctors at another site in Raleigh, N.C. The interns at this location spend much of their time watching and observing. While this is certainly an integral part of the experience, it doesn't give the interns the opportunities they need to sharpen their hands-on clinical skills.

Doin' All the Work

Too much freedom, however, can be a bad thing. I know of a site that trains five to six interns at a time. The doctors basically let (or is it make?) the interns do virtually all of the work. Obviously, the doctors view the internship program as a great way to get free labor. The potential problem with this method of practice is that the interns can develop bad habits without the benefit of receiving appropriate intervention from the doctors. In addition, the doctors provide little opportunity for the interns to observe the unique ways in which they each approach various patients and situations.

Choosing the Best Location

So, what are future interns to do? They can discuss the details of the internship with the doctors at a particular location during the interview process. But the doctors more than likely will be biased. Most are sincere and genuine, but they're trying to sell their practices, and they'll attempt to make them sound as appealing as possible.

The best option to take is contact students who interned at certain locations within a practice. Take the time to ask doctors the important questions. How much chair time does each doctor offer? How much opportunity is there for patient-doctor interaction? How much time is required of interns to observe the doctors before they begin seeing patients themselves?

Winning Balance

An internship is the professional bridge you'll cross from student to doctor. Practices that strike a balance between learning by observation and learning through hands-on experience give interns a major advantage over fellow students who work at offices that don't. While being close to a beach or a ski lodge in the mountains can be a great fringe benefit, these perks are simply that: fringe benefits. Perks shouldn't be your chief motivation behind choosing a specific location or practice. Do your homework and prepare so you can get the best clinical experience you need from the practices in which you choose to work. nOD

Always steering interns in the right direction, Dr. Beck is a 1993 graduate of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. You can reach him at

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2009