Red Flags in Internships

Internships are entirely unregulated, working under the motto “caveat emptor”.  It is up to the individual applicant to determine if a program is a good one or not.  There are plenty of programs out there which are better than others, and many that are worse.  Therefore, it is absolutely vital to do your research to avoid the worst programs.  These are some red flags I consider in evaluating internship programs.

Lots of ER time

I would expect interns to spend a fair amount of time on emergency- that’s how they generate revenue for the clinic.  But if the intern is on ER duty more than 50% of their time, I don’t think that’s a “rotating” internship.  There’s not enough time in other disciplines to learn the essentials of medicine that you need.

No specialists

This one’s a no-brainer.  If there aren’t any specialists, this isn’t an internship, it’s a low-paying first-year job.

Few specialists

If the program only has one surgeon and one internist, you may get a decent experience, but I think it’s less likely than if there are a dozen specialists.  I would look very closely at a program with a small number of specialists.

Intern incompletion

If the number of interns who have completed the program is different from the number who started the program, this may be a problem.  It’s possible it’s because the individual interns dropped out but, in general, good programs do not have interns leave after starting.  This is available in the program description on VIRMP.

Resident match rate

If the program has many years of data, and their resident match rate is terrible (<20%), I would pause and consider going there if your eventual career goals include applying for residencies.

Low directly supervised time

If the time you are directly supervised is <50%, this again suggests they are just using you for cheap labor and not actually teaching you.

Poor current intern attitude

Definitely call and talk to current interns if you are concerned about a program.  If the current interns express discontent, that’s a bad sign.

Bad intern programs are out there, and these are some red flags you can look for to identify them.  Talking to current and past interns is probably the best way to get data, but is also the most difficult.  Look at the program description for the above characteristics to spot those red flags.

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