Facilitating Life-Saving Activities: A Summer Internship Story

During summer 2017, Natalie Ranft (B.A. Psychology, ’19) interned at Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as a clerk in its HealthCall Department. HealthCall serves four primary functions for Sacred Heart Hospital and outpatient offices: answering service, centralized scheduling, patient navigation, and telephone triage. Her internship experiences included providing indirect patient care in the telephone triage center, shadowing hospital administrators, and developing a database for patient navigation. By the end of the summer, Natalie honed many skills, such as problem-solving, flexibility, organization, and communication, and she was exposed to how a hospital operates.  

HealthCall provides 24/7 services to the hospital and physician offices answering for approximately 300 physicians. Clerks and registered nurses work in HealthCall. Generally, the clerks perform most of the answering service duties (taking messages, receiving physician consults, paging physicians, etc.), although nurses also answer during high volume call hours.

Answering the phone is no simple task, as clerks must schedule appointments for eight of the Sacred Heart primary care offices, each with different scheduling requirements. Moreover, they have to ensure the primary care office accepts the patient’s insurance, identifying and reminding new patients to obtain and bring their medical records. Attention to detail is critical in this position. 

Telephone triage is one of the main services that HealthCall provides for patients, especially afterhours when private practices route their calls to the department. The first thing a clerk has to do is determine which of the 300 physicians the patient is calling for and the reason for the call. Natalie was surprised by how many patients did not know the doctor they were trying to reach, or the practice name. She would cross-reference the phone number the patient called or asked questions to determine which on-call doctor to forward the call to; sometimes, the situation required routing the call to a triage nurse. After the call, Natalie created an electronic record identifying accurate patient demographic information, the reason for the call, and the call’s resolution. Finally, the clerk determines how to charge the practices for their call and record it as well.

Natalie believes her experience as a clerk will be beneficial to her, regardless of her ultimate career, as the three primary skills she honed were prioritization, flexibility, and communication.

  •  Prioritization mattered when multiple calls came in, Natalie had to learn which ones were more urgent and respond to them first, in the correct manner. For example, she had to determine whether it was more important to page a doctor with a message, notify the nurses about a very sick patient calling, or schedule an appointment.
  • Flexibility was critical because she received so many different types of calls and had to respond to the needs of those patients. For one call Natalie might have a doctor’s consult and the next call would be scheduling an appointment. Strong organizational skills also allowed her to be flexible.
  • Natalie’s communication and questioning skills dramatically improved while working at HealthCall. She implemented high-gain questioning skills and active listening techniques to pull information out of the patients to identify their needs. Also, she spoke with many people who had language barriers, so clarity of enunciation was important. Often, she dealt with a variety of emotions from patients: fear, anger, frustration, and generally just not feeling well.  Regardless of the caller’s behavior and emotions, Natalie was always courteous and professional, which will serve her well both in class and professionally.

Over the summer, Natalie was lucky enough to shadow a variety of hospital administrators at Sacred Heart Hospital. The best shadowing experience she had during her internship was with Kathy Seitzinger, Vice President of Clinical Services. This position is in charge of the Transitional Care Facility, the Adult Psychiatric Unit, the Older Adult Behavioral Medicine Unit, and the Extended Acute Care Unit. Problem resolution is one of her main responsibilities. She has to be fair, creative, and intelligent in solving the issues presented to her by her staff and other administrators. During all of Natalie’s shadowing experiences, she gained insight on the business side of hospital administration, including insurance, reimbursement, expansion, and how hospitals attract and keep patients within their system. These shadowing experiences reaffirmed Natalie’s desire to pursue a career in hospital administration. 

In addition to her work as a clerk, Natalie also created a database for patient navigation. Building on skills learned at Chatham, she created the database in Microsoft Access. The database was challenging to create because it needed to track numerous inputs and outputs including the patients, specialists, appointments, referrals, and phone calls.  However, Natalie took this challenge one step at a time, beginning with interviewing the Nurse Navigator and Director of Patient Navigation to determine their needs.  For example, the Director of Patient Navigation also wanted reports and charts to show the statistics for certain time periods. While Natalie had a baseline understanding of Access, there were many elements that she did not know, but by problem-solving through the use of online tutorials and trial and error, she created the database.

The B&E Department would like to thank Natalie for her thoughtful and enlightening report about her summer internship, which formed the foundation of this blog article.  Internships are critical to gain professional work experience while you are a student.  Chatham, and the B&E Department specifically, encourages and assists students in finding the right position to match with their professional goals.

Karen Sudkamp is a second-year dual degree student, looking forward to graduating in the summer of 2018 with a MA in Food Studies and an MBA.   She is interested in all things related to building a more sustainable and just food system and to find a role for business to participate in that journey.

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