Atrium Health Cabarrus is Preparing the Next Generation of Health Care Leaders

Cohort I interns pictured from left to right: Ichana Destin, Gabrielle Jennings, Jared Donald, India Bryant and Brooke Hawkins.

By Uniqua Quillins

Ask recent Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) graduate Tiffany Dixon about her summer internship with Atrium Health Cabarrus and you’ll hear the optimism and excitement in her voice. “To have this exposure inspired me to at least start or put my foot in the management position in human resources,” she said. Dixon, a health care management graduate, was one of few interns selected to participate in Atrium Health Cabarrus’ internship program. The initiative purposely brought students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to the hospital to expose them to career possibilities throughout the health care industry. “We wanted to tailor the program like the administrative fellowship, but with the process being dedicated to an undergrad student and their level of understanding with health care administration,” said Hatiya Dunlap, business manager of nursing administration at Atrium Health Cabarrus. Asha Rodriguez, vice president and facility executive of Atrium Health Cabarrus, first put the plan in motion last year.

Five FAMU students were provided an opportunity to gain insight into how far a career in health care could take them. From there, Rodriguez partnered with leaders within the hospital and Pia
Woodley, assistant professor and internship coordinator at FAMU, to start recruiting students for the first cohort of the program in the summer of 2022. Earlier this summer, the program completed its second cohort and has expanded to include students from other HBCUs, such as Howard University, and students of color from predominantly white institutions. Rodriguez said she wanted to start this program because she saw a need and she’s had support from leaders across the health care system including Fernando Little, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Atrium Health. “Our HBCUs are one of the largest untapped talent pools in the country,” Little said. “When I think about science, technology, engineering and math careers, as well as those in health care, it’s an opportunity for us to cast a wider net to talent that would be game-changing in the space of health care. Our commitment reflects what having access to an outstanding talent pool means for us from a health equity standpoint,” said Little.

The internships are set up in rotations, with students being exposed to clinical and business operations. They also had an opportunity to work on projects to help push the strategy of Atrium Health Cabarrus forward. One hurdle the program was able to overcome before the students arrived in Charlotte was housing. Through donor funding and partnership, each intern was
housed for the program. “We don’t want students to be bound by their geography,” said Rodriguez. The leaders at Atrium Health Cabarrus are intentional about partnering with universities outside of the communities the system normally serves to attract and recruit diverse talent. “This exposure really puts a footprint on students’ career paths,” said Dixon. “It helps students, like me, figure out what we want to do with our degrees.” Rodriguez said leaders are also learning from the interns. “They infused us with this fresh, young energy, and they’ve been able to help give us unique feedback that we probably wouldn’t see every single day because we’re in the environment,” she said. Woodley believes these types of partnerships and commitments are crucial and it’s important that they are sustained over time. “That’s when we can really groom, to a high degree, the next generation of health care professionals,” she said.