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3 steps to starting your own senior care internship program

January 26, 2012
by Eric Holmes
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While it is universally understood that internships are good for students, there is far less information out there that demonstrates the benefits of internship programs to employers, and long-term care is no different. This article describes a step-by-step process on how to start your own senior care internship program; to learn more about the benefits of running your own program, click here.

STEP ONE: FORM PARTNERSHIPS

The most important step in starting an internship program is to pair your facility with a respected local college to recruit interns. This is for two reasons:

1. The college can supply potential interns at no cost or time expense to your facility, and some colleges will even cover the cost of any necessary worker’s compensation insurance as well as required background checks that, if not required for LTC facilities in your state, are still a good idea.

2. In recent years, many unscrupulous employers used the high unemployment rate as a means to take on unpaid interns who, in turn, did the work that was normally reserved for paid staff. As a result, staff members were laid off and interns—whose purpose is to learn about a specific career field—were delegated to menial jobs far outside of their area of study. Consequently, The Department of Labor and several states have worked to prevent these activities, and employers face more scrutiny. Pairing with a local college helps give your facility a layer of protection.

STEP TWO: PAY THEM (OR DON’T)

You must determine if your interns will be paid or unpaid. In many cases, this decision can be influenced by the college that you pair with, as many programs do not allow their interns to be paid. If your facility is able to go the route of unpaid interns, your costs are those of paying someone on staff to oversee the program (see Step Three), as well as any gifts that you choose to give interns upon their departure. Otherwise, there are no costs directly associated with having unpaid interns.

If you pay your interns, then you have the wage to pay, along with necessary taxes. Many employers do not offer benefits to paid interns given their limited amount of time with the company. For that reason, interns typically do not expect any benefits to be offered.

STEP THREE: ASSIGN A COORDINATOR

Once you’ve addressed the above-mentioned details, it is vital to then find a staff member to serve as internship coordinator. The role of the internship coordinator is to ensure that interns are getting the training they deserve and to serve as a liaison between the facility and the college(s), as many programs demand regular reports of how many hours the interns worked, what tasks they performed and a rating of their performance.

The internship coordinator can be any staff member of the facility, but it is best that the position be dedicated to one person in order to ensure consistency.  It is, however, important that all staff be aware of the internship program, as they will spend more time with the interns than the coordinator. The staff’s role is to serve as mentor and as role model to the interns, and they have a wealth of experience to draw from in order to give interns the best possible learning experience.

SUMMARY

An internship program is a great way to find qualified staff, raise resident morale, generate new ideas and give back to the community by helping college students. The key is fostering positive relationships with local colleges. In turn, you help both local students and your facility—a mutually beneficial way to spend a little bit of your time.

Eric Holmes is a freelance writer and is the Director of Life Enrichment and Director of Marketing for a small, privately owned assisted living community in the Pacific Northwest. He can be reached at holmesea@hotmail.com.

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