Key takeaways from this story:

The Health Quality BC’s Summer Student Internship Program is an opportunity for post-secondary students to learn about, gain practical experience in, and make meaningful contributions to quality improvement in the British Columbia health care system. The program is highly competitive and hundreds of students apply each year. The program includes education to equip students with the knowledge and tools to work on quality improvement projects both during the internship and in future roles. The students are also provided with mentorship by both project supervisors and Council staff. Interns are also able to offer new perspectives, a fresh take on challenges, creativity, and identify areas for improvement. And, their willingness to learn and ask questions is valued by project leaders.

Rabiah’s Student Internship Story

A huge grin split Rabiah Dhaliwal’s face, as she described having just completed her last final exam of the semester. The relief was evident, as was the excitement – the Biology student from Surrey now has just one semester remaining before she graduates from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Science degree.

After that? Rabiah is planning a career in medicine or a related health care field, although the exact path is still uncertain. What she does know is that wherever she lands, her interactions with patients will be defined by empathy and she will seek out their perspectives, which will help inform her care for them.

This insight was among the most important things Rabiah says she gleaned from her experience in the Health Quality BC’s Summer Student Internship Program.

“A big thing that I’ve come to appreciate is the inclusion of patient voices as equal partners in health care and quality improvement efforts,” she says. “It can be really easy to talk at patients without realizing it, instead of to them and with them. Of course, it’s important to include the perspectives of health care professionals, but the patient voice also needs to be included.”

Since 2011, post-secondary students have had the opportunity to learn about, gain practical experience in, and make meaningful contributions to quality improvement in the BC health care system through the Summer Student Internship Program. Highly competitive, hundreds of students apply each year for the chance to learn while advancing quality initiatives led by health authorities and provincial health organizations.

Last year, Rabiah was one of just 11 students offered internships for projects, which aim to improve one or more dimension of quality in the BC Health Quality Matrix. She and her fellow student interns were provided mentorship by both project supervisors and Council staff and participated in education that equipped them with the knowledge and tools to work on quality improvement projects, both during the internship and in future roles.

“I really loved my time in the internship,” says Rabiah. “I came into it with an openness to learn. Sometimes, with internships, you’re expected to know something (about the work) coming in. I found it was OK to be vulnerable and ask questions. Asking questions can be hard, so I appreciated that I could ask a lot of questions.”

Rabiah put her name forward for a few of the projects and says it wouldn’t have mattered which she was chosen to support. However, she was happy to land with the one that spoke to her passion for mental health advocacy work – “Improving Interdisciplinary Collaboration for Patients Admitted with Mental Health Diagnoses to an Acute Pediatric Medical Unit,” with the Provincial Health Services Authority.

In this initiative, which worked with youth who have an eating disorder, Rabiah was tasked with engaging with patients and families and incorporating their perspective into change ideas. This included hosting focus groups with patients and caregivers to develop a prototype of an admission orientation guide for patients with eating disorders and conducting one-on-one interviews with patients and/or their caregivers on their inpatient experience. She also coordinated and facilitated workshops to develop change ideas, collected data, and conducted data analysis.

“It was a humbling experience,” she says. “To hear from people at their most vulnerable, at someone’s hardest moment … I could really see the patient voice in the work we did.”

“The student internship program is a win-win for both students and project leaders,” says Kate Meffen, Leader of Capability Development for the Council.

Project leads have reported that interns not only helped advance their projects but were in fact a valued asset to their teams.

“The interns were able to offer new perspectives and a fresh take on challenges. They also bring creativity and identify areas for improvement. And their willingness to learn and grow is exciting,” Kate says. “At the same time, students tell us what they learn about the process of improving health care quality whets their appetites for pursuing more quality improvement opportunities in the future.”

The Council will open applications for the 2023 Summer Student Internship Program on Jan. 31. Rabiah says if students are wondering whether the internship will be worth their while – stop wondering and apply.

“I felt very supported in every step,” she says, expressing appreciation for her supervisor, Dr. Sara Jassemi, an adolescent medicine pediatrician at BC Children’s Hospital who Rabiah calls a “QI superhero.”

The icing on the cake came in October, when Rabiah presented on the project at BC Children’s Hospital Brain, Behaviour, and Development Research Day. Her team won best poster in the undergraduate and medical student category.

“When I looked at the poster, I could see how I contributed. It put into perspective how valuable this whole opportunity was. It helped me realize how many amazing career paths there are in which you can combine quality improvement work with other areas. I didn’t even know quality improvement streams existed before.”

Learn more: