Guiding the Future of Aging Services: Maximizing Internship Experiences to Propel Students into Aging Service Professions

Scores of higher education institutions across the United States offer educational tracks that guide students toward careers in Health Sciences and Aging Services.   Internships are a capstone event for many programs and influence career decisions. Making the most of an internship opportunity is paramount to ushering in new talent to the Aging Services Profession.    

Continue reading for tips to connect AGE-u-cate programs to creative internship opportunities and create an experience for students that they will never forget.

AF7B312B-ED46-48ED-ADB9-58C084437F24 (2)The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) defines an internship as: “a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths, and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.” 

NACE also defines what an internship is not:

· A volunteer program
· A clinical nursing rotation program
· Office work
· Access to unpaid labor
· A replacement for paid employees

Northern Illinois University intern Faith Asbrand earned the designation of Reading2Connect® coach through online education and used the program to connect with elders in her internship.

Empathy Cultivation

Empathy building is the first step.  The elderly population includes individuals with varying degrees of physical and cognitive capabilities, so students need adequate preparation to engage with elders at all functional levels.  It will be distressing for a student to be ill-prepared to encounter persons that they don't understand.   

Thirty-eight (38) years ago, I stepped into my first dementia-care unit as an intern.  Almost immediately, I encountered a woman asking if I knew how she could get home to Hebron, Ill.  I had no idea what to say at the time, and vividly remember that what I did say was absolutely distressing to her.  Yes, I learned a valuable "on-the-job" lesson, but it was at the cost of a person's well-being.  I could have and should have done a better job responding in this situation.

Establishing an internship plan that includes interactions with elders of varying abilities will inspire maximum skill building and will serve to open a student's eyes to career possibilities.

Students should understand the people they will encounter, and the best way to prepare them for this reality is to have them experience for themselves what it feels like to live with physical, cognitive, and sensory changes before stepping into an internship site.  

AGE-u-cate's Dementia Live experiential training program will enlighten students about what it feels like to live with cognitive and sensory changes and help them develop effective communication approaches.

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Define the Path to Purposeful Engagement

Site selection is critical to ensure that face-to-face engagement is substantial and won't be usurped in favor of office work or passive engagement such as calling bingo. 

Students should feel that their presence as an intern contributes to the quality of life for the elders they encounter.  Meaningful work creates meaningful internships and is the best chance that we have in this industry to inspire students to continue on a career path in Aging Services.  

Equip the Student with Resources to Inspire Purposeful Engagement

Now that we have a well-prepared student and a site that supports connection to elders, there must be a defined purpose and mission.  In other words, what will the intern actually do?  We don't want the intern to just show up and depend on the site to structure the time.  Students need to have resources in hand to facilitate meaningful and purposeful engagement with the elders. 

The presence of an intern carries the potential to enrich the lives of elders with evidence-informed resources that inspire engagement. 

As a college student studying Gerontology, I am eager to invest my time in educational courses that will prepare me with skills for a future career with older adults.  The Compassionate Touch program provided me with foundational skills for connecting on an emotional level with elders living with dementia.  I feel that Compassionate Touch introduced me to care concepts and communication approaches for individuals progressing through the end stages of life that I had never been introduced to within my university courses."

Amber Godinksy, Northern Illinois University, Intern


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Reading2Connect® is a resident-directed, Montessori-based program that includes specialized reading materials to engage residents of all abilities.  

773EA6FE-A59E-46AB-8903-54F2E7A34A3D (1)The Opening Minds Through Art program provides students the opportunity to earn a certificate through an online module and bring intergenerational art opportunities to elders living with dementia.  

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Promote Knowledge Sharing and Resume Building

Interns have much to offer an Aging Services Provider and can enrich the community in various ways.  Carving out time for interns to impart knowledge and helpful resources to the staff and even family members can be another component of a robust internship experience.  

The four AGE-u-cate Training Institute programs highlighted in this article:  Dementia Live, Reading2Connect Compassionate Touch, and the Opening Minds Through Art Certification Course all include online training curriculum that awards the learner a coach credential after completing the modules.   A credential such as this is a wonderful companion to a degree or certificate and provides that extra something on a resume.  

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Northern Illinois University intern Amber Godinsky shared the benefits and techniques of Compassionate Touch with a group representing the Dementia Friendly Elgin initiative in Illinois.






Reach out If you are eager to take your higher education Health Sciences/Gerontology internship to the next level.

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