Internship vs. Externship: What is the Difference?

Training InternshipAll quality medical assistant programs offer clinical practice through either an internship or an externship. What is the difference between the two? Is one better than the other? These are questions that many aspiring medical assistants may ponder when choosing a training program. While both internships and externships offer hands-on experience, there are some very real differences between the two experiences. Here is a comparison between the two types of programs:

Set-Up of the Program

During a typical externship, the medical assistant may be required to complete several tasks. These often include such things as job shadowing, attending conferences, learning a variety of medical topics, and counseling. A well-designed externship program will allow the extern to be involved in staff meetings and company development opportunities, allowing the medical assistant to view and be involved in every aspect of the business operations. Alternatively, an internship often involves the medical assistant intern working in a particular job or assignment for the entire length of the program. As a result, interns often experience more detailed training and experience than externs.

Learning Intensity

In many externships, medical assistants are in the beginning or middle of the training program. This means that the extern will typically be allowed to participate in a fewer number of hands-on experiences and will be severely limited in his/her contribution to the medical environment. On the other hand, internships often occur at the end of a training program and are considered as apprentice-level training. As such, interns often have a wider variety of experiences and are permitted to perform a greater range of tasks within the business.

Program Length

Medical assistant students who participate in an externship may be assigned to a position for only a few days, with the maximum being a few weeks. Internships, however, typically last for one or two months with a specific employer. This allows students to find their place in the work environment and to get a solid view of what to expect in the career. In addition, interns often get a better grasp of the diversity of medical assistant duties as well as a deeper knowledge of the industry itself.

Securing a Position, Recognition, and Compensation

Generally, colleges or universities will help students to locate and set up an externship. For an internship, schools may provide counseling or advisory services, but students must typically locate and apply for internships on their own.

As a general rule, students participating in an externship are not paid for their time. In some instances, the experiences also do not count for any scholastic credit. Instead, these experiences often serve only as a tool for gaining knowledge about the field and for understanding of overall information regarding the healthcare industry. Alternatively, internship programs may be either paid or unpaid and typically count toward the requirements for a medical assistant degree.

Knowing and fully understanding the differences between medical assistant internships and externships can help students be more prepared to complete this hands-on training requirement and can also help aspiring medical assistant students to make a well-informed choice when choosing a training program.