Summer internships put students’ skills and self-perceptions to the test

Wilderness Medicine and Rescue major Samantha Morrison knew the technical aspects of wilderness medical care through her classes and Wilderness First Responder certification course, but until this summer, she had never applied those skills to actual medical scenarios.

For two months, Morrison interned as a nursing assistant for Camp Laurel in Maine. She joined a team of nurses and nursing assistants who maintained and ran the medical center like a health clinic or urgent care, complete with in-patient rooms, medication management, and triage. The team was responsible for the health and well-being of nearly 1,000 campers and staff members.

“I had to deal with throats and feet, hands and ears, lice, and hair, and throwing up, and none of it really bothered me. I had never had hands-on experience before, so I didn’t know if maybe feet would absolutely disgust me, but for some reason I always ended up getting the people who have the ingrown toenails, and it’s been totally fine,” Morrison said. “I’ve always known I want to do this and that I really enjoy learning about it and doing mock scenarios, but I had never been put in a situation where I really had to help someone, so this has been eye-opening.

Many potential career paths for Outdoor Recreation Management (ORM) and Wilderness Medicine and Rescue majors require employees to be familiar with working out in the field, so practical experience is vital. After all, you can’t learn to kayak in a rushing river, scale a rock wall, or ski a black diamond from a textbook. While many ORM courses do take students out of the classroom, internships allow students to test their knowledge and expertise in the real world while networking with industry professionals and learning more about their own goals and interests.

Morrison earned her Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification in the summer of 2022. She said that this certification specifically was instrumental in her confidence and preparedness going into the internship and gave her the tools she needed to be effective in her role at Camp Laurel. While the well-equipped medical facilities at the camp are not as remote as some of the situations the WFR training prepared her for, many of the injuries she dealt with were the same due to the number of outdoor activities planned by the camp.

Along with allowing Morrison to prove herself, the internship was a chance for Morrison to take stock of her abilities and evaluate her career goals. For ORM and Criminal Justice double-major Finnbar Maloney, a summer internship was also the catalyst for a journey of self-reflection.

Maloney spent the summer interning with the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon. While Maloney’s primary responsibilities involved conducting recreational surveys for the Forest Service’s National Visitor Use Monitoring Program, he said he made himself available for any opportunities that came his way, a mindset that led him to working in a variety of areas within the Forest Service.

“Outdoor recreation entails so much, and you can do so much with that degree. There are also so many careers you can do just within the Forest Service: forest ranger, soil management, sawyer, firefighter, and I’m trying to find what I want to do,” Maloney said. “I volunteered everywhere I could after I worked. I would do trail clean-ups for Cove Palisade State Park. I worked at fish hatcheries and did surveys. I helped out with two controlled fires, and one natural fire.

While he knew he wanted to work with the U. S. Forest Service, Maloney said this experience, and being open to trying new things, gave him a greater understanding of his post-graduate goals, and reinforced that he is on the correct academic path. Not only that, but Maloney said dedicating himself to his internship with the Forest Service taught him more about himself, his work ethic, and what he can achieve when he sets his mind on a goal.

“This internship taught me that I am capable of more than I expected to be. I always thought I was kind of a slacker, but now I have shown myself that I’m capable of more. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day, driving two to three hours, and then working six to eight hours every day,” Maloney said. “I had to reflect on myself; I can’t keep telling myself what I can’t do. I have to get myself out of bed, because this is my job, but it’s also my future. It has shown me that I’m capable of more and has also shown me a love for the outdoors and a love for my degree.”

Morrison was similarly surprised by her ability to handle emergency situations, manage stress, and remain level-headed while being forced to think on the spot.

“I’ve definitely learned more about myself. I’m a very curious person, and I really like to get feedback on how I’m doing,” Morrison said. “If I were to do a search and rescue position, it’s good for me to figure out that I'm actually really good under high-stress situations. I focus on the first step and take it one step at a time instead of getting overwhelmed. It’s something I’ve learned about myself that I never knew before.

Looking into the future, both Morrison and Maloney know that these summer internships will give them an advantage when it comes to securing their first post-graduate positions. Morrison has goals of going on to work for the National Outdoor Leadership School, while Maloney plans to continue working with the U. S. Forest Service. After their internships, Morrison and Maloney look at these goals that may have once seemed daunting with a renewed sense of confidence and self-assuredness that through hard work and expertise they can achieve anything they want.

By Maya JarrellSeptember 05, 2023