The End of the Beginning: First Co-op Reflections

On June 30th, I said a sad goodbye to my first co-op at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Cardiology Clinic. I will miss the amazing team there, not to mention the kids who truly made it all worthwhile. I have taken away so much from this co-op, but here are the main things that I have learned that are truly applicable to any co-op in any field.

1.       I have developed my communication skills. The clinic is truly a team environment that depends on information sharing and full communication when something goes wrong. Many patients see multiple providers in one day, and many see other departments within the hospital as well. In my role, I have to be able to effectively communicate any concerns or questions as soon as possible, since I am usually the first person to see the patient. Over these six months I have grown comfortable speaking with all providers up to and including physicians about patients and their needs. The importance of this was proven to me when I noticed a baby was losing oxygen in his blood to 60% and below in my care. If I hadn’t said anything to the nurse, that patient could have been in a dangerous situation. But because I escalated my concern, the baby got better care and was eventually admitted. At the beginning of co-op, I would have been nervous to approach the nurse, especially in our busier times. But now I am confident enough to approach the team about various issues. In the workplace, if you see something, say something: it will benefit the team and show your knowledge.

2.       My time management has also improved. I know which providers take longer in appointments and who likes to have their patients ready quickly. As a result, I am able to quickly make decisions about who to put in rooms vs. who to leave in the waiting area, or which patient I should get vital signs on first. I know this skill is even more valuable on an inpatient unit, so I am glad to have gained it early on. Understanding the “flow” of tasks given to you and successfully completing them on time is crucial. It also means you might have extra time to understand what you are doing as opposed to rushing through tasks so quickly that you don’t gain any knowledge.

3.       I have learned so much about the decision making skills a nurse needs. They need to be able to synthesize information from so many different sources and present their findings to other providers in an accessible way. Since I have not been on clinical yet, I have less experience with gathering information pertinent to nursing, like a patient history. I know that much of this knowledge will come from clinical and my classwork, but some will also come from observing the nurses on the job. I feel more empowered to ask them questions about how they arrived at a certain conclusion now that I am farther along in my nursing education.

4.       I have also gained knowledge about the importance of nursing research. At BCH almost all of the nurses are involved in research projects run by either the hospital or individual clinicians. I find this work fascinating and I am hoping to get involved myself when I become a nurse. To improve my skills in this area I will be looking for more opportunities through Bouve to get involved in projects.

I will truly miss this co-op and I can’t believe it went by so fast! Your first co-op is so important to your overall learning experience: make sure to listen, take it all in, and make a name for yourself! It’s never too early to make a great impression.

Julia Thompson is a third year Nursing major in the Bouve College of Health Sciences. She works as a nursing assistant at South Shore Hospital and just completed her first co-op at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is the secretary of the Northeastern University Student Nurses’ Association and is also involved with Bouve Fellows. Feel free to contact her at with any questions. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.

Blending Intercultural Workspaces


The day of a regular working professional generally passes through a few common phases; namely the first half period, the post-lunch era and then the countdown-towards freedom! Surprisingly, or not, this is a common phenomenon across geographies! So, whether you’re a professional working in a developing market or an executive from one of the first world countries, human resources experience anxiety, boredom, interest and relief all throughout the same day. In order to break the monotony, more and more organizations arrange for some activity or the other like motivated Mondays and casual Fridays, just so that there is a positive buzz in the work space.

However, the matter of contention here is how different society’s (read cultures) perceive and tackle such situations. Although people may be trained in different areas of expertise, the training only focuses on enhancing the task, activity or output required of resources to deliver. No matter how experienced one may be, there is always a difference in culture that has an overarching influence in the day-to-day engagement of employees. This cultural difference can only be bridged when one spends more time in the existing culture and eventually blends into the system at large.

Key Comparisons

For a broader understanding of the differences, let’s club up the cultures as Eastern and Western. It is intriguing to recognize that despite the same experiences encountered by professionals on either side, they’re guided by completely different philosophies when they try to bridge this rather obvious gap in work cultures.

1. Organizational structures – Flexible vs Tall:
In most Eastern cultures, organizational hierarchies are well-defined. Instructions, orders and demands flow in a downward direction. The supervisor finds himself in greater capacity to delegate or even, at times, dictate terms to junior employees within the organization. Questions pertaining to work, if any, are seldom posed freely by the employees and even rarer cases are posed verbally. If there is a matter that needs to be discussed, supervisors and subordinates do so discreetly being fully aware of their social and work boundaries.
However, when we survey the situation in the West, the workplace seems to be slightly more democratic in nature. Questions from subordinates to the top management are appreciated. They’re considered as engaging because questions lead to refinement of the systems in place. And, communication is a two-way street.
But, in both the cultures, more often than not, it’s the ‘boss’ who generally has the last word in the discussion.

2. Addressing colleagues:
It is quite common in many workplaces in the Indian sub-continent for junior employees to address supervisors with suffixes such as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ or ‘Saheb’ or ‘Ji’. This approach isn’t necessarily frowned upon or considered as taking one’s designation too seriously but it is a part of their culture where elders and seniors, both in age and hierarchy, are bestowed with a certain degree of respect.
Which is why it is slightly awkward for people from Eastern cultures working in the West in an environment where everyone in the organization is on a first name basis; even, the CEO.
But what needs to be recognized that in both cultures there is a high degree of professionalism and work ethic regardless of the manner in which one address his or her colleague or supervisor in the workplace.

3. Flow of discussing business transactions:
Businesses in the East find it necessary to find some sort of a common ground with their partners prior to going ahead and transacting business. This common ground may be anything ranging from having the same favorite sports team to having similar ethnic roots. This makes both parties comfortable in each other’s company and makes it easier for them to talk about collaborating businesses activities. Many businesses feel free to negotiate and re-negotiate terms of transactions even if the parties involved in the transaction have just reached a consensus on the same. They can do it because they’ve developed a comfortable understanding of their business approaches.
Most professionals working in the West follow a structured pattern when transacting business. They follow a linear format of discussion wherein once the parties have reached a consensus on a particular matter, that point is sealed and they move on to the next point on the agenda.
Both methods have their peculiarities, while one may believe the Eastern philosophy to be time-consuming and confusing, some may believe that the Western philosophy is distant and nonchalant.

Way Forward

It is needless to say that geographic boundaries are shrinking. Brands seemed to have dissolved the concept of what was previously ‘foreign’ because they have seamlessly integrated with the local fabric of things. Organizations have realized the shortcomings of ethnocentric and polycentric staffing and have graduated to geocentric staffing. The focus is now on recognizing different cultures and blending them to create an inclusive and innovative work culture.

Combating the Culture-Vulture


“This is how things get done here”. How often have we come across this phrase at the office? This one simple statement opens up a can of worms for many organizations regardless of size and structure. In the contemporary work setting more and more companies are focusing on something called finding the “cultural fit” when recruiting or evaluating a candidate’s performance. This terminology covers a gambit of themes ranging from hiring decisions to firing decisions. To help me establish my point better, I would like to quote from Schein (p.17 2004) who defines organizational culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems ” Keyton, J. (2011).

In theory, this definition conveys that organizations, nowadays, prefer having someone on board who is like them. Over a significant period of time, defining organizational culture has become essential for organizations in not just sourcing talent but also for its very existence!


Every organization is established on certain principles and values that it wishes to find in its workforce. If they don’t find it during their search the companies will try to instill the same principles by driving the narrative throughout the organization. Apple; a large organization with a diverse workforce is a wonderful example of this. The company focused on Steve Jobs interest in calligraphy in the early part of his career. This shaped his company and pushed their limits to be more aesthetically pleasing. From product designs and features to product innovations, Apple products are always ahead of the learning curve.

In order to drive this narrative, it is vital that companies realize their own ethos which is central to the very existence of the organization. This in turn can be channelized through various methods to reach the end users, the employees. An employee will more likely be encouraged to try and perform the same function using a new method in organizations that focus on innovation and encourage free flow of ideas throughout the organization.

When Nokia was at its zenith, the company focused on making phones that were push-button, robust and had a great battery life. However, by the turn of 2010, the company couldn’t match up to the smart phones manufactured by Apple and Samsung and Nokia fell apart. This saga brought to light the conservative and reserved culture that existed at Nokia, where senior leadership refused to question the status quo. On the flip side companies like Google are built on not just questioning the status quo but even changing the existing dynamics. The Google Innovation Lab and other research centers are delegated with the responsibility to try, fail, learn, and innovate path-breaking products and its results are inimitable such as google glass, project loon-X, and the self-driving car.

The factor that sets the tone for the narrative in the organization are its people. People define, execute, transform, and establish how things get done at any organization. As a new employee in any organization, I’m curious to understand the work environment in the office. It’s not just about having friendly co-workers or having casual Friday’s. It’s much more whether or not I’m allowed to work independently, what are my decision making powers and most importantly how easily can I get my grievances resolved without ruffling too many feathers. These are various factors one needs to consider when assessing the culture. In my experience there aren’t any textbooks available that can teach potential and even current employees about grasping the work culture. I believe that only experience will allow you to understand it. Although portals like Glassdoor and Linkedin do a splendid job in giving candidates a clearer picture, but it is only so much that these portals can do.

Cultural Alignment

More often than not even factors external to the organization play a vital role in defining the organizational culture. A company faced with competition may re-define its policies and change the entire method of the climate. Managing the change is where most employees and the organization face a steep task because many employees resist change. Even if the change may be beneficial to the organization as a whole in the long run, managers and leaders aren’t able to align company objectives with the individual goals of the employees. Whatever may be the principles of an organization, it is imperative that the company propagates adaptability and flexibility as major components of the organizational culture.

So as companies wade through industry trends, market demands and customer preferences, it is essential for employees and potential candidates to ‘culturally-fit’ in the work setting. Doing so, enhances job satisfaction, increases growth potential and paves the way for a long-standing association with the organization. Also by rewarding, monetarily and otherwise, a workforce that accepts and embraces the company’s vision, organizations have a greater control in retaining their best talent. The only method that this can be attained is by recognizing the objectives of both the stakeholders and jointly planning to establish an inclusive, ethical, and stimulating environment in the organization.

Keyton, J. (2011). Communication & Organizational Culture: a key to understand work experience (2nd ed.). California: SAGE Publications, Inc.