When I began interviewing for a marketing internship at Lee Health in late February, I had no idea that within a matter of a few weeks our lives were going to be turned upside down as COVID-19 began to spread throughout Southwest Florida.
It was during my second interview that I received an email from Florida Gulf Coast University announcing that classes would shift to a virtual setting for the health and safety of the staff, faculty and students for the next two weeks. I had no idea that I wouldn’t see the inside of a classroom until August.
My experience throughout the last nine months has been very different from what I anticipated my senior year and internship to look like, but with the guidance of incredible Lee Health team members and support from professors, it has been an experience that has taught me more than I could have imagined.
I have never experienced working at Lee Health outside of a pandemic, but despite that, I have continued to have a hands-on and extremely beneficial learning experience. I have heard stories from my classmates about their own internships at other organizations that were either taken away once COVID hit, or they were shifted to a virtual setting, leaving them feeling unprepared as they move towards graduation.
Many stories about interns involve grunt work and coffee runs, but my experience at Lee Health could not be further from that. Even in the early days of my internship, I felt that all of the work I was given was meaningful. Whether it was doing research, writing social media posts, helping to facilitate Facebook Lives or making website updates, I always felt that I was working with a purpose — not just doing things to fill up my time.
I have even been fortunate to meet several members of our senior leadership team, and I have encountered genuine kindness each time. When I first met President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Larry Antonucci, I was blown away by his kindness and genuine interest in my education, internship experience and career aspirations. He welcomed me and asked me questions about my life and education, and through this he assured me that I am a valuable member of this organization. As an intern you do not often find this type of interaction, and it is incredibly motivating to receive this kindness from a CEO. I began working in the healthcare industry at a very turbulent and unprecedented time, but I have never found the experience to be constricting or lacking. The dedication from everyone I have worked with has made this a truly incredible opportunity.
Not only have I met wonderful people who work within the system, but I have also had countless unique, impactful and emotional experiences with patients and their families. As a public relations and journalism student, I have a passion for writing and sharing people’s stories, and in this position I have found the perfect outlet to do so. Throughout the last nine months, I have met children who are fighting battles I can’t imagine. I have listened to the inspiring stories of cancer survivors. And I have seen true heroism from the doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers who have been on the front lines of COVID-19 for most of this year.
Seeing childhood cancer’s impact
Though I have experienced several impactful moments throughout my experience at Lee Health, there is one that my mind always comes back to. It was Sept. 1, the first day of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I was at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida for an exciting kickoff event for Clips for Cancer. Jordan DeLorenzo, a patient at Golisano, is battling T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia. His older brother, Austin, is his biggest supporter and No. 1 fan. Austin decided a year prior that he was going to grow out his hair to surprise Jordan and let Jordan shave his head. Before Jordan arrived at the hospital, for what he assumed was a routine doctor’s appointment, Austin shared some of their story with us. It was one of the most inspiring and heartbreaking stories that I have ever listened to. He recalled Jordan’s treatment, and how at one point Jordan was so weak that Austin had to carry him from the car to their house.
Austin also told us about how when Jordan was losing his hair, he dreaded taking showers because he knew that when he dried his hair with a towel, it was going to fall out in huge clumps. It was this moment that broke my heart. It’s a heartbreaking reality that a child is afraid to take a shower because he knows with each one he is losing more and more of himself. I just could not, and I still cannot, wrap my head around the fact that there are children in our community who are battling for their lives every day. I have always known about the horrible effects of childhood cancer, but it is a completely different feeling and experience when you are sitting in front of someone and listening to them tell their own story.
The children, their families and the doctors and nurses who live with the reality of cancer every day are truly heroes. I will carry Jordan’s story with me for the rest of my life.
The moments that followed Austin sharing this story were beautiful. The smile and joy that spread across Jordan’s face when he realized what was happening ignited the room. Everyone went from shedding tears of sorrow while listening to Jordan’s story, to tears of joy when they saw the look on his face as he shaved his brother’s head. It was an incredible moment standing in that room, and it showed all of us that even in the thick of a pandemic, there are still plenty of things for which to be thankful.
Although there have been incredible, happy and inspiring memories over the last nine months, I am no stranger to the fact that the hospital is not always the happiest place to be. I have walked the halls of our hospitals, seeing patients who were battling COVID-19, lying helplessly in their beds as nurses provided them with incredibly compassionate and dedicated care. I have seen the effects that this virus has on the physical and mental health, not only of our patients, but also our staff who are putting their own lives at risk each day as they begin their shift.
Each time I walk through the doors of one of our hospitals, I immediately see true heroism in the eyes of each member of the healthcare team. The last nine months have been incredibly difficult for the people providing care, and I am reminded every day of the sacrifice they are making to heal our community. It is an ongoing battle against this virus, and I am proud to be a part of an organization that is standing on the front lines.
Learning continues at FGCU
While interning, I have also continued to be a full-time student with classes both online and safely in person. I am now in my senior year at FGCU, and every day I am navigating this new normal when it comes to attending classes.
FGCU has done an incredible job of ensuring that my level of education still remains top tier as my health and safety stays their top priority. I have felt very fortunate that FGCU’s safety protocols allow a majority of my classes to continue in person and that those protocols keep me feeling safe and comfortable. Each one of my professors is determined to create a positive and beneficial learning environment, whether that is in person or online.
As I have grown and moved into the professional world from a classroom, I have seen my professors’ teaching strategies come to life. It can be difficult and strange to transition from a classroom setting to a professional one, but my professors have made the process seamless. Each lesson they taught was applied to a real-world example, justifying every lesson, assignment and exam, which is incredibly motivating as a student. I have never felt that what I am learning is unimportant or useless, and I think that makes a world of a difference in a student’s performance.
Though COVID has made my last year of college a little strange, I still feel prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation in the spring because of the dedication and expertise of each one of my professors.
The last nine months have been a whirlwind. But both Lee Health and FGCU have shown incredible commitment to my experience and education, while keeping my health and safety a top priority. Despite the ever-changing and unexpected conditions, my teammates at Lee Health welcomed me and made enormous efforts to make me feel comfortable and supported as I took on my new role. Even when their own workloads grew as we navigated the beginning of the pandemic, everyone still made sure to teach, mentor and even befriend me, and they never left me feeling in the dark.
I am thankful to work with a team who saw the importance of an intern even during a crisis, welcomed and treated me as one of their own, and taught me valuable skills and lessons that have changed my life forever. When I look back on this experience, I am so proud to share stories of the meaningful work that I have done and the way that this role has shaped me. As I move towards the future, I am excited to continue growing at Lee Health, and I am so thankful for FGCU for providing me with the foundation that I needed to prosper.
The impact that each of my professors and teammates have left on me will carry me through the rest of my professional life, and even during a pandemic they have taught me invaluable lessons, for which I am grateful.
—Hannah Lee is a senior from Melbourne majoring in communication, with a concentration in public relations, and minoring in journalism. Her internship at Lee Health continues through May 2021.