How an Internship Program Can Breathe New Life Into Your Senior Care Community
Internship programs provide a valuable opportunity for young people to explore potential career paths, acquire hands-on experience, and establish professional connections that can pave the way for future success. Senior care organizations can benefit from creating internship programs by developing a pipeline of skilled future professionals, increasing staff and resident engagement, and innovating through fresh perspectives.
Goodwin Living, a faith-based, not-for-profit senior living and healthcare services organization in the National Capital Region, has created its own comprehensive and unique internship program and was subsequently selected as a recipient of the 2023 Top Employers for Interns Award by the Virginia Talent + Opportunity Partnership.
Structuring the Internship Program
Goodwin Living has a long history of hosting interns through school and university partnerships, as well as clinical rotations. In March 2022, Goodwin Living launched a paid internship program that offers year-round cohorts. In each session, interns are assigned a resident mentor, attend skill development workshops, and complete individualized projects. Internships are available in multiple specialty areas, including healthcare, marketing, finance, and brain health.
“We launched the internship program through the Anderson Fund,” says Zoe Marcuse, Goodwin Living’s people engagement manager. The stipend-based program allows Goodwin Living to welcome in young people within the community who might not have otherwise thought of pursuing a career in the senior care industry.
Thanks to multiple cohorts each year, interns are a constant presence at Goodwin Living. Those participating in the paid program are present two to three days a week. Summer cohorts last between eight and 10 weeks, while fall and spring cohorts are 2.5 to 3.5 months long. Goodwin also offers a flexible spring program for high schoolers that lasts six to eight weeks, while a five-week-long winter break intensive welcomes local college students who are home during the break.
Resident and Intern Pairings
One notable feature of the internship program is that interns are paired with Goodwin Living residents. “When we launched the program, I really felt that a vital part of our community was missing from the experience,” explains Marcuse. “We have these amazing older adults with rich experiences and so much wisdom. It felt like a really natural connection to bring them together.”
Goodwin Living does outreach to residents, allowing them to express their interest in becoming a mentor. At the beginning of each cohort, the community hosts a mix and mingle, a fun event where all mentors and interns come together to meet. “We had over 40 people in the room at our last event,” says Marcuse. During the event, residents and interns get to know each other, play “get to know you Bingo,” and then pair off individually after the introduction. “It’s a great way to kick off the program,” Marcuse says. After being introduced, residents and interns can meet over lunch, over a shared hobby, or might attend community-hosted events together.
Intern Selection and Orientation
The internship application is hosted on the Goodwin Living website and the programs are promoted through multiple channels, including Indeed.com and several different job boards. “Our biggest source of applicants is from Handshake, which most universities use to advertise internships,” says Marcuse. “We also work with community partners, including Communities in Schools, which help us meet our high school interns.”
All interns apply directly on the Goodwin Living website, and then selected interns complete a phone screening process and later interview with the host department. “We want it to be a collaborative process and a chance for interns to share what they’re looking to get out of the internship,” Marcuse explains. “We want to make sure it’s a good fit and that the intern will have a meaningful experience with us. We’re hands-on in involving interns in areas they want to target or projects they’re working on.”
When screening applicants, Goodwin Living looks for potential interns who are curious, excited to learn, and enthusiastic. “It’s great to have someone who’s excited to speak with residents and get to know the different departments,” she says. An intern who is excited to contribute and who brings positive energy is ideal. “We love to receive feedback and ideas from interns.”
Before each cohort, Goodwin Living hosts an orientation for supervisors and a separate orientation for interns. “I reach out to interns and supervisors twice during the experience, asking for feedback,” says Marcuse. “At the end of the cohort, we do a feedback survey, and the interns rate different components.” They have the chance to indicate their feelings on their mentorship, workshops and other elements of the internship. The internship concludes with a closing ceremony in which supervisors, interns, and mentors can share their reflections in a group.
Benefits of the Internship Program
Benefits of the program are numerous both for the interns and for Goodwin Living. The interns are offered valuable opportunities, including access to senior care leaders. They can participate in a series of workshops, and often have one-on-one time to speak with the leaders. Interns often reach out to the leaders to have a follow-up lunch.
Additionally, interns have a mentorship experience with Goodwin Living residents. “It’s a supportive environment with their resident mentors, and it benefits personal and professional growth,” says Marcuse. “We hope they walk away feeling inspired about their career path.”
Goodwin Living has found several new staff members through the internship program, too. “In the last year, we’ve hired 10 interns and four from the paid stipend program,” says Marcuse. “Many of the interns are still in high school or college, but we do hope as the program grows, we will see more join Goodwin Living.”
Goodwin Living also puts interns’ ideas into effect. “One type of feedback we always get is how surprised interns were that they actually got to see their ideas come to fruition,” says Marcuse. “An intern in our IT department was involved in the steering committee and suggested several ideas that were implemented during the first three months.”
The community also enjoys the satisfaction of fulfilling an important goal. “The key goal is to make sure that we’re providing equitable opportunities,” Marcuse explains. “We focus on working with community partners who are working with first-generation college students and students who have immigrated from other countries. About 35% of our program has come from communities who have immigrated, and about 30% of our interns are first generation college students. By offering paid internships, we make it more equitable.”
Advice for Senior Care Communities on Implementing an Internship Program
Marcuse notes that it’s particularly helpful for senior care communities to have a position dedicated to developing an internship program. About a third of Marcuse’s position is dedicated to the program. “It really helps to dedicate time to launching or managing the program,” she says. “Beyond that, really providing structure and training for the supervisors has been a huge benefit. It makes sure that departments feel they have the capacity and are ready to interact with the intern.”
Kathie Miller, Goodwin Living’s corporate director of marketing and communications, encourages senior living communities to seek out ways to offer paid opportunities. Goodwin Living’s paid internship program is possible because of the Anderson Fund, which is specifically dedicated to connecting with interns who wouldn’t have otherwise had exposure to the senior care field. “Our residents are sometimes major donors to our foundation,” says Miller. “I think that’s also one of the ways that residents can get involved.”
Marcuse explains that the Anderson Fund opens up new career opportunities for interns, since it enables them to explore the opportunities within the senior care field. “An intern may be in marketing or IT and didn’t even know that their field could be in senior care,” she says. “They’re able to think about all of the industries that their career may be able to support. Kathie hired a marketing intern. There are so many industries that you could go into with marketing, so it’s a great success. For them to feel inspired by the internship and want to join us – that’s huge.”
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