BACKGROUND

Programs in exercise physiology, exercise science, kinesiology, sports sciences, and human performance encompassing both undergraduate and graduate studies are increasingly popular, providing education for a growing career field. Preparing students for healthcare careers requires adequate exposure and hands-on learning using experiential internship and practicum opportunities. An initiative to formalize the exercise science academic requirements for university programs is already in place and requires institutional program CAAHEP accreditation by 2027. Participation in a clinical internship and the hours required vary among college programs. This retrospective study performed on the cardiopulmonary internship program at a large Midwest pediatric hospital provides insight to clinical education and research skill development for undergraduate and graduate exercise science students.

METHODS

A retrospective review of program metrics and outcomes was analyzed regarding university affiliations with the internship program, number of students accepted into the internship program, completion rate, training and competencies, student academic level and associated culminating student presentations, and program satisfaction surveys for students completing their internship experience.

RESULTS

Between 2012 to 2023, the program grew from 3 to 40 university affiliation agreements/institutions. 143 students participated in the internship program: 32 fulfilled shadowing experiences, 90 were undergraduate interns and 21 were graduate interns. Internship hour requirements varied from 100 to 600 hours, with most students completing 350-450 hours. In 2012, the program enrolled 1 student per year, and by 2013 the capacity expanded to 4 student positions per semester (each spring, summer, fall). Internship students have presented 38 poster/abstract presentations at regional conferences and seminars. Students achieved 99% completion of site-specific sign-off competencies in cardiopulmonary exercise testing, including expanded requirements for cardiac rehabilitation starting in 2018. 98% of the student interns completed the program.

CONCLUSIONS

The cardiopulmonary internship program has continued to expand additional affiliate universities from both local and out of state institutions referring students to the pediatric internship program. Secondary to our cardiology program’s growth to include pediatric and now adult congenital patients, our outreach sites, and the expansion into cardiac rehabilitation and exercise prescription, the lab team members and allocated space have increased to accommodate increasing patient volumes. This has led to the ability to increase student interns per semester and expand their preparation for transition into the healthcare workforce. Understanding of the skills and competencies obtained during the practicum experience may help to enhance academic curriculum to transition students into clinical opportunities.

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