When St. Mary's Hospital started an internship program for high school students last summer, hospital officials thought they would be teaching teenagers practical skills they could use for a career in health care or business.

Hospital officials discovered, however, that sometimes a 17-year-old can teach adults a skill or two.

Take Mikey Stewart, 17, a senior at Leonardtown High School who also is completing a graphic arts program at St. Mary's County Technical Center. In school, Stewart says he spends 1 1/2 hours each day "basically playing with state-of-the-art equipment," so he knows his way around a computer.

As a hospital intern, it is arguable whether Stewart has been doing more learning or more teaching.

"We've been delighted with the level of talent of our interns," said Martha Beavers, director of community relations for the hospital. "Mikey, for example, is an excellent graphic artist, and he's actually teaching us things."

On his first day as a graphic designer in the Community Relations Department at St. Mary's, Stewart was assigned a project "they thought would take me days, and I did it in six hours."

Stewart often finds himself explaining to adults new techniques in Photoshop and other computer programs.

"They can give me more responsibility, and that makes their lives easier," Stewart said.

The hospital's eight interns earn $6.04 an hour for their efforts and get a taste of the working world.

"The program gives students a way to understand what will be necessary to compete in the health care environment," said Mark Cautin, vice president for human resources at the hospital.

The interns, most of whom are enrolled in programs at the Technical Center during the school year, have made discoveries this summer that will help them choose colleges and decide what careers to pursue.

Dana Goode, 17, a senior at Chopticon High School, spends much of her time wheeling patients from their rooms to the lab for tests. Working with sick elderly people has confirmed her desire to be a pediatric nurse and treat children instead.

As an assistant in the human resources department, Renee Abell, 16, a senior at Leonardtown High School, does a lot of typing, filing, and answering phones. She has a whole new appreciation for what it means to be a secretary.

"I always had this idea that secretaries don't really do anything," Abell said. "Now I see all the tax forms, the background checks, the postings. It's like, gosh, how do you do all this?"

Students were chosen for the internship based on recommendations from their teachers at the Technical Center. Other interns work in Plant Operations, Nutrition Services and Education and Training.