Premier molds young minds

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Premier Homecare has tapped into an unusual pool of potential job applicants: college interns.

Instead of the nine months it typically takes to get a new employee up to speed, former interns are ready to hit the ground running, said John Cason, vice president of marketing.

Premier's internship program started by accident in 2007, when Cason chanced upon a college student who was headed to an unpaid internship.

"We said 'Let's be one of those companies that pays these kids and brings them into our system,'" he said. "She came onboard and embraced it. When she graduated, we happened to have a job opening. She took over the sales territory and didn't miss a beat."

That first experience went so well, Premier expanded its program to the business schools at three local universities. Students must submit a resume and undergo a job interview. While the internships are in the sales and marketing program, candidates come from a range of backgrounds, said Cason.

"Some have experience with large corporations," he said. "Others have been a lifeguard."

The interns--typically seniors--put in between 15 and 25 hours a week during the school year, depending on their class-loads. They do everything from learning HCPCS codes to meeting with referral sources. The number of credits they earn is tied to hours worked. At semester's end, Premier fills out a survey for the university.

"It's a great learning experience for them and gets them out in the real world," said Cason. "We haven't had a semester where we didn't fill it."

Premier pays its interns a "professional minimum wage."

"We felt like if we pay them, they would treat it like a real job," he said. "It's not some charity thing where they just show up when they want to."

Internships are not common practice in the HME world, but it's a great idea, said industry consultant Vince Crew.

"It's a marvelous way to give a young person an opportunity to see a side of health care that most don't," said Crew, president of Reach Development. "Obviously, it also encourages young people to consider the industry."