Interns earn $12.50 an hour without benefits, which works out to less than $5,000 per veteran—a small investment with a big return, he said.
The program, which graduated its first class in May, certifies participants in deployment of virtual desktop infrastructure, a software service that allows users to access their desktop computer environment in different locations. The veterans also choose a hospital department in which to “shadow” and specialize, such as data security, network services or end-user technology, said Tommy Bankhead, Rush's team lead for support services, who manages the internship program.
The veterans' presence in the hospital has had a positive impact on employee culture, too, Bankhead said. “They really help the staff understand what vets go through,” he said.
Of the five veterans in the first class, four have gotten jobs, Parent said. Two were hired by Rush—one on the help desk and one as a personal-computer services technician. One found a job at a medical laboratory firm and another was hired by a financial services company. “One vet got nine phone calls and three interviews,” Parent said. “I told him, 'I am your best referral. Put my business card right on the table.'”
The program is not intended as a staff-recruiting tool for Rush, Parent said. “We want the vets to be hired in the community and we want to show other hospitals that this is reproducible.”
Parent and his team made some adjustments after the first round, such as condensing the six-month, part-time program to a three-month, full-time curriculum. The four students in the second class began training this month. Parent also said he's looking to expand the size and scope of the program, and plans to apply for federal grants.
For James Wigfall, a member of the first class, the experience has been transformative. Wigfall, 46, spent 20 years in the Navy caring for patients as a hospital corpsman. But after retiring in 2011, he struggled to find work.
“I just wanted someone to give me an opportunity to get my foot in the door,” said Wigfall, who commutes more than 40 miles from his suburban home to his job at Rush's information-services help desk. “To finally feel productive and vibrant, it gives me new life.”
Follow Maureen McKinney on Twitter: @MHMMcKinney