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Managing Risk in Internships

The California State University Board of Trustees, through the Chancellor, has endorsed the CSU campuses’ efforts to engage teaching methods that promote student learning through active participation in meaningful and planned service experiences in the community that are directly related to course content. Because there are risks associated with student placements, there are risk management procedures that should be implemented to create positive and safe off campus learning experiences. Each department’s internship/service learning program, while distinct in its learning  objectives, has many common issues with all internship/service learning programs with regard to risk management. The best internship/service learning plan is designed to enhance the fieldwork learning experiences and to provide best practices that allow for a learning environment where risk and liability have been minimized. A best practices internship/service learning plan should have the following features:

  1. Be sure that faculty and students understand their role and responsibility
  2. Select and contract with the best fieldwork sites available
  3. Understand and apply risk reduction techniques

Of course, all this must be documented. According to Executive Order 1064 and Technical Letter RM 2012-01, the placement of students requires a formal agreement between the University and the Institution that we place the student into for course-required fieldwork experience. Once the faculty has found and accepted a suitable placement site, contact Purchasing & Contracts Administration for information on the standard template for such student placement agreements. The wording of the agreement has been developed with the CSU General Counsel as advisor and reflects an acceptable level of liability protection and is used for both internships and service-earning arrangements.

To begin the process of creating a new internship/service learning program, faculty should start at Purchasing & Contract’s “Request to Initiate an Internship Agreement.” Risk Management requires having a signed agreement with each and every site and to stick as close to the model agreement as possible. In this way we extend protection for the University and faculty against liability claims without compromising the protection and due diligence we must afford the student.

If completing these steps means that Risk Management would have to meet with faculty, review the fieldwork sites and create appropriate contract wording, the Risk Manager would be most happy to work with you to achieve our purpose.

It well may take some effort, however once the site relationship is established, it would be easy to maintain. The following is a look at each step in the plan in some detail.

Be Sure That Faculty And Students Understand Their Role And Responsibility

  • Even if your Internship Program may be quite mature and well functioning, as we become more aware of the serious exposures to our students and look for ways to protect them (and ourselves), some modifications in our thinking may be required. In particular, it may be that better documentation and risk mitigating techniques may be warranted. You may have several levels of fieldwork experience.
  • For example, a shorter, 2-hours/week Practicum or an extensive 6-month Internship Program which is required for a degree. Each level needs to include and document the faculty member’s discussion regarding the student’s responsibilities and include some practical guidelines with regard to the student’s safety and accident prevention.
  • Risk Management suggests the “Internship Learning Plan” as a practical way to handle this aspect.
  • The Learning Plan consists of the following three parts:

               1.  Student Learning Objectives

               2.  The site risks

               3.  Everybody’s approval/agreement 

  • The Site Supervisor and Faculty Advisor both sign this page, which includes the Site Supervisor’s agreement to the Program.
  • It is incumbent on Department faculty and staff to understand the process so they may consistently communicate the Service Learning/Internship Program to students.
  • The “Student Internship Guidelines,” can be used for your review. The faculty discussion with the students that details the students’ responsibilities at the site needs to include some practical requirements with regard to safety and accident prevention. These guidelines present some relevant procedures that students are expected to follow for their personal safety and successful completion of the fieldwork experience. Note that the student must initial the guidelines to document that they have read them.

Select And Contract With The Best Fieldwork Sites Available

  • Realizing that there is a great variety in size and sophistication among existing and potential fieldwork sites, not to mention the diversity of patients, clients, etc., makes it important to simplify the contracting process. The “Fieldwork Site Profile” is designed for all parties to have the current Site mission, inherent risks and contact information in one document. If the site administration and you (faculty or internship coordinator) can agree on the basic plan for the Internship Program, it means that you have discussed both the students’ needs and the site’s needs and how each can be fulfilled through the Program. The “Checklist for CBO Visit” assures you, or other faculty, that the necessary details to achieve these mutual needs are covered in your discussion with Site administration. This is a very important meeting.
  • The “Checklist” focuses attention on the requirements and expectations of both the site and the Academic Program. It is a guide to understanding the role each play in the development of the student’s learning experience. The checklist may prompt new questions and hopefully answer some unusual specific questions that may come up. The purpose of the meeting and checklist is to create a cooperative environment for the contract negotiation.
  • Because Executive Order 849 requires a written contract between the University and the host organization, using the standard format assures that we protect the student, the University (and its employees) and the host organization. However, some wording in the contract can be individually customized through negotiation between the CSUSB Purchasing & Contracts Administration and the site’s administration.
  • In order to have maximum insurance and liability protection, it is necessary to have a signed agreement with each and every site and to stick as close to the model agreement as possible.

Understand And Apply Risk Reduction Techniques

  • The final step in completing the best practices is to have the student sign the student portion of the Internship Learning Plan to document that the student has been advised of all the requirements associated with the placement, including the risks associated with the Site. This essentially is an “Informed Consent Agreement” and has legal standing should any claims arise as a result of the placement. The final step includes assembling all documentation and assuring appropriate signatures. In this Plan, we extend protection for the University and faculty against liability claims without compromising the protection and due diligence we must afford the student. Professional Liability Insurance The “Student Professional Liability Insurance Program” (SPLIP)” and the more recent “Student Academic Field Experience for Credit Liability Insurance Program” (SAFECLIP)” (scroll down to view) established two new general and professional liability insurance programs designed to protect students  involved with internships, fieldwork experiences and service learning because of the need for enhanced liability protection for students, faculty and host organizations. Addressing these issues with insurance alleviated these liability concerns and fostered increasing the University’s potential engagement with the community, while managing risks of student-caused injury as well as the potential for costly litigation against faculty, staff and the University.
  • The CSU purchased a systemwide professional liability insurance program to provide coverage for students enrolled in the Nursing, Allied Health or Education curricula. This Systemwide program is designed to satisfy the host institutions’ requirements that students maintain professional liability insurance in order to participate in programs offered under affiliation agreements with the University. This insurance program includes professional and personal liability coverage with broad protection for the students, affiliates and the University. The Systemwide Student Professional Liability Insurance Program (SPLIP) became effective August 1, 2006 through EO 986 which also established the fee.  The SPL insurance program covers the student, the University and the host institution while the student is engaged in the internship experience. It is intended to meet the contract requirements of the medical or educational institution for their protection against some action by the student or personal liability damage alleged by a patient. The SPL is not intended to replace any professional liability (malpractice) insurance the individual student may carry for incidents outside of the clinical experience situation.
  • On July 1, 2007, a new insurance policy, Student Academic Field Experience for Credited Liability Insurance Program (SAFECLIP), was put in force to cover “professional and personal/general liability” of enrolled students performing community service or volunteer work for academic credit, and students enrolled in radio, television or film credential programs. This policy protects the student, the university and the community partners.
  • Executive Order 1012 was issued to authorize the campus presidents to establish a SAFECLIP fee. Basically, both programs offer the same general and professional liability insurance to the applicable students, the CSU, and CSUSB employees: staff and faculty. The major difference is in the students covered. The SPLIP covers CSUSB students enrolled in either the health professional practicum or the education credential programs. These are the students participating in nursing and allied health and teaching or education fieldwork.
  • SAFECLIP covers our students performing community service or volunteer work for academic credit and/or students in radio, television or film academic programs.
  • Executive Order 1064 - Student Internships

More Information

  • The University Risk Management Office and the Purchasing & Contracts Administration all stand ready to provide one-on-one training and issue resolutions for faculty and/or departments that need or want additional guidance.
  • The above departments are obligated to help reduce risk exposures for students without hampering the learning opportunities or impeding experimental education pedagogies. We believe that once department coordinators and faculty develop a greater awareness of the risks (and duty owed) involved with student placements, they would eagerly comply with the basic service learning requirements in Technical Letter 2012-01 and EO 1064.
  • Information regarding the SPLIP and SAFECLIP insurance programs coverage can be found under insurance programs in the Risk Management website.