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A number of area senior living communities offer internships in nursing and other fields. Both students and residents benefit, say those involved with internship programs.

Nursing students who do internships at Monarch Landing retirement community in Naperville receive a valuable experience whether or not they make caring for the elderly their career choice, says Sara Friel, director of resident experience.

“Whether you’re in a senior community or you’re in a hospital setting or a public health setting, you’re going to interact with older adults,” she says.

Dawn Zibricky, assistant professor of nursing at Elmhurst College, which places the nursing interns at Monarch Landing, agrees that students gain much from their experience. The life plan retirement community offers levels of care ranging from independent living to skilled nursing.

“Students have an excellent experience because Monarch Landing really knows how to take care of seniors,” Zibricky says. “Monarch Landing is a state-of-the-art retirement facility.”

Nurse leaders
Nursing students from Elmhurst College placed at Monarch Landing are in a two-year accelerated program that allows them to prepare to be licensed as registered nurses while also earning a master’s degree. The master’s degree prepares them to be nurse leaders, Zibricky says.

Monarch Landing takes an interdisciplinary approach to senior care and uses evidence-based practices, making it an especially good location for those interested in working with the elderly, she says. Two students come at a time one day a week from October through December. They develop a project such as creating reference materials that staff can use in working with residents who have Alzheimer’s, shadow clinical staff and attend staff meetings. “We’re very open with them about challenges we face,” Friel says.

The nursing internship program at Monarch Landing was started three years ago after a Monarch resident, who formerly taught nursing at Elmhurst College, suggested it. Monarch Landing also has physical therapy interns from North Central College and social work interns.

Nurse practitioners
Retirement homes are also an excellent place for nurse practitioner interns to get hands-on practice examining, diagnosing and treating patients, says Dr. Elliott Kroger, medical director at Sedgebrook, a life plan retirement community in Lincolnshire. Sedgebrook has an onsite medical center with two full-time physicians.

Nurse practitioner students coming primarily from Rush University College of Nursing spend two to three days at Sedgebrook during their geriatric rotation. After initially shadowing medical staff, they interview patients themselves, discuss their findings with Kroger, who then sees the patient with them, and afterward talks with the students about their diagnosis and treatment plan. Kroger also does mid-point and final evaluations with them.

Because working with the interns is so time-intensive, Kroger says he only accepts one at a time and a total of three a year. The biggest challenge for the interns, who generally have worked as registered nurses, is to transition from carrying out doctors’ orders to giving orders themselves, he says.

Jessica Mauleon of Chicago, who did an internship at Sedgebrook from January to August last year and now is preparing to take her licensing exam to be a nurse practitioner, says her internship helped prepare her for her new role.

“That helped build my confidence that (this) was exactly what I should be doing,” she says.

With continuing care communities increasingly taking a greater role in treating residents with medical conditions, they need staff with mid-level medical training, Kroger says.

“This is an ideal site for nurse practitioners to take an active role,” he says.

Therapy interns
At Friendship Village, a life plan community in Schaumburg, graduate students do internships in mental health counseling. Two of the interns each year have concentrations in art therapy. They are supervised by the Rev. Dr. Shawn Kafader, the retirement home’s lead chaplain and clinical counseling supervisor, who is himself an artist.

Kafader says the internship program started six years ago with an art therapy student from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. “We started with one intern and quickly decided we could expand,” he says.

The students generally spend 20 to 25 hours a week at the retirement community from August to June. Interns facilitate groups as well as work with individual residents in all levels of care. Kafader meets with the interns weekly, sometimes attends the groups, and views videotapes of their counseling sessions with residents.

Catherine Kelly of Glen Ellyn was a graduate student at Adler School of Professional Psychology when she did an art therapy internship at Friendship Village from August 2017 to June 2018. At Friendship Village, she worked with older adults with a variety of special needs, including physical and cognitive disabilities. That experience carries over to her current work as an art therapist at an alternative school, she says.

“It really prepared me for what I do now,” she says. “It was the best rewarding experience I could have asked for.”

Ana Anaya was a graduate mental health student from Argos University in Schaumburg when she did her internship at Friendship Village from September 2017 to June 2018. Anaya says she previously worked with children and teens, but she is now seeking to be licensed to work with older adults. She is especially interested in hospice care.

That interest was sparked at Friendship Village when she spoke with veterans who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, but had never told anyone before. Some of them passed away while she was there.

“It’s so needed and it gives clients peace of mind talking about what they never talked about before,” she says.

Kafader says many older adults have never received mental health counseling because a stigma was attached to it when they were younger. But many need help dealing with life transitions, depression, loss, anxiety and behaviors that may have always been part of them. The services they receive from the unpaid interns are free.

“I constantly get emails (from staff) saying If you have an opening, I have someone who would benefit from your program,” he says.

Read more about Monarch Landing’s internship programs here.