Revolutionizing Healthcare Remotely: Stevens Co-Op Students Pitch In During Pandemic
Working remotely, students create new technologies for Northwell Health and gain valuable real-world work experience
When businesses and industries across the globe were forced to slow operations, or worse, shut down entirely, career-building internship and co-op plans were scrapped, leaving college students across the country scrambling for a plan B.
At Stevens, the technology grounding of undergraduate students kept many in demand by companies who were able to move to a remote workforce for large facets of their operations.
"Stevens students are very technologically savvy. That's part of the reason they're here. So our students are in an especially strong position to adapt to changing situations like this one,” according to Lynn Insley, executive director of the Stevens Career Center.
Case in point: Joshua Zeitlinger ’21, currently gaining real world work experience from one of the most recognizable brands on the planet – Microsoft – remotely from his home in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey.
“With the emphasis on working from home and social distancing, we’re seeing an unprecedented demand for technology services in general. So while the economy overall is taking a hit, software development and technology as a whole will probably come out ahead in all of this,” he said.
Zeitlinger landed his coveted Microsoft internship thanks in large part to the real world training he received from a year-long internship with the Innovation Center at Northwell Health, New York’s largest health care provider, with 23 hospitals and nearly 800 outpatient facilities serving Long Island, New York City, Westchester County and neighboring communities.
Northwell is one of the top users of Microsoft technology, especially the Microsoft Teams platform.
“In a lot of ways, that perfectly set me up at this internship at Microsoft. A lot of the stuff I’m using now I’m quite familiar with thanks to Northwell.”
COVID-19 puts a spotlight on the demand for healthcare tech
Zeitlinger’s experience there helped pave the way for new Stevens recruits – Skye Doto ’21 and Alex Rubino ’23 – to gain experience with emerging healthcare technology as part of the first cohort of co-ops at Northwell Health.
Their co-ops coincided with what Lauren Pearson, program director of Northwell’s Workforce Readiness Team, describes as a “transformative time,” one in which people pushed the boundaries of what they thought was possible.
The results, she says, were simply “astonishing.”
“At every level of the organization, people achieved unprecedented successes in a very short period of time. One example is the work of Stevens’ co-op students. The pandemic has confirmed our commitment to continually re-imagine and evolve healthcare so that we can be an even greater resource for our patients and the communities we serve.”
Doto is currently working remotely and will continue that way until August. The remote situation, they say, does nothing to take away from the real-world impact of the work they perform every day.
“It’s very satisfying, especially in the healthcare field, because I know that what I’m doing is helping to save lives. I haven’t gotten that feeling from any of my co-ops before.”
Hands-on experience with transformative healthcare technology
Rubino’ co-op as a data science associate began in January and ended in May. Halfway into his co-op he moved fulltime to remote work when stay at home orders were issued by the state of New York.
From home, he focused almost exclusively on the most critical technology being developed by the Emerging Technology & Innovation team: NORA, a chat bot app that enabled physicians and nurses on the frontlines of the COVID-healthcare battle access patient information immediately from their phones.
The alarming rise in coronavirus cases moved up NORA’s deployment date.
After the initial roll-out, Rubino tracked NORA’s usage, creating essential data reports and visualizations relied upon every morning by developers and the product team in making improvements and updates, and providing tech support to clinicians.
Northwell was Rubino’s first co-op experience. Along with the impactful work he was able to take part in, what impressed Rubino the most about Northwell was the pace and productive energy of the Emerging Technology & Innovation team, he says.
“It was crazy how fast everybody worked and how fast things got done. I always had something to do until my last day. It was a little overwhelming in the beginning, but it was great getting such an experience,” he said.
Building relationships, grooming top talent
Students who can thrive in such a fast-paced environment, such as Rubino and Doto, are precisely the candidates Northwell’s Co-Op/Internship Program is seeking, Pearson said.
“Beyond the required hard skills of education and proficiency writing code, we are seeking individuals with an insatiable curiosity and desire to think outside the box and problem solve,” she said.
Pearson hopes the success of Doto, Rubino and Zeitlinger at Northwell will help showcase healthcare as a potential career path and inspire other Stevens students to apply to the program.
“Historically, we have not seen many students in computer science and engineering majors who think about pursuing a career in the healthcare field, but a real need exists.”
The possibilities have been “eye opening” for Doto.
“It has definitely shown me what can be done within the healthcare sector and what kinds of things are needed,” said Doto.
The experience is nothing short of confidence building, Rubino says. On his second day, he was already sitting in high-level meetings and asked to provide feedback.
“They valued our opinions just as much as anybody they worked with, and would keep asking us for feedback and input on everything. It was: you’re here, you’re part of our team, let’s get to work making products that support clinicians.”
Northwell is hoping to build on its relationship with Stevens. Its Internship/Co-op program is poised to become an important workforce pipeline for long-term careers, Pearson says.
“Our hope is that the students want to become a permanent member of the team upon graduation. Stevens has an excellent reputation of educating and developing top talent, and Northwell is eager to continue to grow this partnership.”