As students around the world face canceled internships or summer jobs, Publicis Health has reinvented its traditional internship program into a virtual summer academy.

Instead of working 40-hour weeks in one of Publicis’ offices, students are gaining experience through mentors, weekly virtual workshops, professional development and networking. With the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency wanted to continue making its program accessible to students that may not be able to relocate or go into a physical office because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Laurie Mellon, SVP of talent programs at Publicis Health.

“A great outcome here is that we were able to include more students in the academy than we could have in-house, we normally have about 60 in internships and have 87 in the academy,” Mellon said. “We have people all over the country taking part, representing schools and states we’ve never had in the program before. We have one person in Australia and one in Turkey. It has been awesome to open it up to such a wide audience and for them to learn with us in the comfort of their own home.”

The virtual academy also opens the agency and access to its staff up to more students who may not normally be able to move to or afford to rent in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago for the summer.

The lockdown from the coronavirus pandemic, that forced agency employees to work remote, came right about the time Publicis Health was making offers for summer internships. Mellon said the team quickly pivoted to the virtual program, because they didn’t want to put students in a situation where they had to decide between staying safe or taking the internship opportunity.

“Every week they are introduced to a topic in industry, a senior leader in the industry, or a department or job path they’re interested in on their own time,” Mellon said. “They’ve been paired with a mentor who they’ll meet with and can utilize that relationship however they want. Whether it’s a friendly ear, someone in a job path they’re interested in or to open their eyes to the types of programs we use. We’re also doing some professional development for them, like resume and portfolio workshops, and virtual networking.”

At the end of the eight week program, the students will receive a certificate from Publicis Health. “It will have our name and our backing, recognizing the fact that they committed to learning about our industry this summer,” Mellon said.

While it’s not a traditional internship, these students will still have the learning experience and have gained contacts in the industry.

A huge part of the internship program for Publicis Health is exposing students to a career in healthcare marketing, often not part of many college curriculums, and building a pipeline of talent.

“There’s so much passion in our organization and dedication to identifying and evaluating great talent and introducing them to a career in health as a student, which is something many of them have probably never thought about before,” Mellon said. “We want to open their eyes to new pathways and talk to them about what we do and what our healthcare clients do. The program allows great candidates to learn with us and mentor with us while balancing their lives during an uncertain time.”