Externships let Yalies learn from the best

Ashleigh Hegedus ’03 stood by a patient whose ribcage was wide open as a group of doctors stopped his heart from beating, took blood vessels out of his leg, and proceeded to insert them into the clogged areas of his heart.

She then saw them put the blood back in his body, manually stimulate his heart, then close the ribcage “with extreme force” and sew it up.

Hegedus was amazed as the doctors placed bloody rags and needles into bags.

“For liability purposes and to show proof they did not sew them into the patient’s body, they keep every rag,” she said.

Hegedus did not have a normal spring break.

Many Yale students will spend their two weeks of vacation tanning, partying, and, above all, forgetting about work. But some students are choosing to use the time to get a glimpse of their future careers by participating in the Associate of Yale Alumni’s externship program.

Externs spend one or two weeks during spring break going to work with an alumni sponsor and getting an idea of what their professions are like.

“One or two weeks out of your life is nothing compared to finding out eight or 10 months down the line that you don’t like your job,” said Lanch McCormick, AYA’s assistant director of student programs.

The program aims to provide students with an introduction to the day-to-day work in a given career field and to broaden their awareness of postgraduate options.

“Externships give students the opportunity to see the unvarnished reality of professional life in the real world,” alumni sponsor and former Yale professor Alexander Gorlin ’80 said.

Students may apply to three externship positions but may only participate in one. Once selected, students may not back out of the positions. The application deadline is at the end of January, and the sponsors will make their decisions in early February.

Nearly 150 positions are being offered this year in a variety of career fields. Included are positions in music, cardiac surgery, law, advertising, banking, film, teaching, engineering and journalism.

Externs are not compensated and do not receive any academic credit from Yale College for participating in the program. But the externships pay in other ways, such as helping students to assess possible career fields, to fill the experience portion of a resume, and to connect with alumni.

“Many jobs have resulted from externships,” McCormick said.

As an extern at YM Magazine in New York last year, Jane Hong ’02 was immediately included in many processes crucial to the magazine’s publication. Among her experiences was a photo shoot, where she met and observed several models posing for the magazine.

Hong made a startling discovery at the shoot.

“I was surprised at how much the models ate,” she said. “This rail-thin girl was sitting there wolfing down this big plate full of chicken and pasta, telling me how much she hated salad, while the stylists played with her hair.”

Although she said that she got the impression that “a teen magazine office is a pretty hip place to work,” Hong decided after her experience that she would not pursue publishing as a career. She is currently planning to enter public service.

Jane Kwok ’04 externed under a cardiac physician at the Virginia Veterans Hospital last year. She lived with her sponsor for the two weeks.

At the hospital, Kwok sat in on cardiac procedures and heart surgery, learning about different medical imaging techniques as they were used.

“It was a long and exhausting week but a very worthwhile learning experience,” Kwok said.

After her externship, Kwok said she realized that she could not physically handle the job of a cardiac surgeon and decided that practicing medicine was not in her future.

“I was able to take in the life of a physician in a different perspective, having lived and went to work with one,” Kwok said. “I learned that I didn’t want to become a surgeon, or even a doctor for that matter.”

Externships are most commonly offered in major cities like New York; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Houston and New Haven.

But being an extern does not necessarily require students to sacrifice a spring break abroad or in an exciting location. This year, there are externships being offered in Paris, Hong Kong and Quebec. There are also several positions available in cities in Hawaii.

But many students find it more convenient to extern close to home.

Externs generally are expected to pay all of their own expenses for the program. But many sponsors do provide some meals, housing, local transportation and even transportation to and from New Haven for their externs.

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