When I started as an intern at what I consider to be the best VAMC in the U.S., I had no idea what I was in for. As I study politics, I was excited to have an internship with a government organization after a summer of searching, and one that allowed me the flexibility my schedule and interests demanded.
My first few months interning were the most difficult. Even though I am now working on more challenging projects, I felt in over my head at the time. There was so much information to absorb, so many things I could be involved in, and so many acronyms.
As a member of the Millennial Generation, or Generation Y, there are certain traits about myself that I attribute to my generation, a fact I did not fully realize until VA leadership training helped me explore this. One of those characteristics is that I was afraid of a “boring 8 to 5 job,” that really extends into nights and weekends on occasion, like my mother and father.
Millennials by nature strive towards balance in their work and personal lives and are thought of as unwilling to commit to jobs requiring long hours, evening or weekend work. I would argue the last is only true if they are not in love with what they do. Since obtaining my bachelor’s degree, and while working towards my master’s, I can admit to worrying about finding a work/life balance in my future career. It is a high priority for me that I find an acceptable balance. What I have realized at VA is that it’s possible to create that balance, especially when you love what you do. When I enjoy the work I am doing I no longer fear having a mundane 8 to 5 job that takes away from my family and free time. I am happy with the work I am doing and am held accountable for the goals set, but the organization and leadership also allow me the flexibility to put my family first.
What are the benefits of an internship with the VA?
One of the greatest impacts this internship has had on me is that it has allowed me to explore many different career choices, some of which I had not even considered.
During my time at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks I have had the unique opportunity to learn more about the roles of our leadership team, the facility planner, the public affairs officer, the compliance officer and many others. My mentor has helped me focus on projects that pique my interests and allow for a mutually beneficial experience during the internship. I am gaining valuable experience and learning hands on approaches to my areas of interest, such as public affairs, while being able to provide valuable work to VA as well.
Other benefits of my internship include credit towards my master’s program, valuable leadership training and employee benefits. My internship is a Pathways Internship, but there are several to choose from. You can find more information about VA internship opportunities, eligibility, and requirements here.
But what I feel is the greatest benefit of an internship with VA is that it is a great honor to serve our Veterans. The VA Learning University website describes the Pathways Internship as an opportunity which “allows students to join VA in career positions that emphasize long-term training and development.” This is true. I have had a great deal of training and development in my career field. I think what that statement fails to mention, though, is the great honor it is to work at the VA. I never realized what a privilege it would be working for our nation’s Veterans. Certainly, I have family members that were in the military as many do, but it was not until I became a part of the group entrusted to serve those who serve that I understood the sacrifice that was made for me. Having the opportunity to say thank you on a daily basis, give something back to our Veterans, and care for them when they need it most has been the best experience of my life, and has forever changed me.
Sarah McBride is a Program Analyst Intern at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, AR. She is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Political Science at the University of Arkansas.