Successful Internship Programs in Senior Care

Internship programs can provide valuable knowledge and great experience for those looking to pursue a career in the senior living field. However, finding qualified applicants remains the biggest challenge, particularly in states like California where the cost of living continues to skyrocket in many areas.

Jeff Moyer, Executive Director of Quail Park on Cypress in Visalia

Jeff Moyer, Executive Director of Quail Park on Cypress in Visalia, says most senior living operators face the challenge of finding enough time for recruitment.

“For example, in order to end up with two caregivers, you need to interview eight candidates. In order to get eight candidates to show up to an interview, you need to invite 16. To get 16 quality candidates, you need to review 64 resumes, and so on. If you’re lucky, you may find one qualified candidate in every four resumes you review. To get 64 resumes a month, this means I need to receive a minimum of 16 resumes per week for the position.”

If you’re operating in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego, these numbers may be easier to hit than if you’re operating in Redding, Modesto, or in Visalia, where Moyer is located. Then again, they may not.

He points out challenges such as competing against large employers like Costco, in addition to navigating the online job search options. However, Moyer found it helpful to examine exit interviews in an effort to find a solution to high turnover rates.

“Through exit interviews, we determined that while we were good at interviewing for culture fit, we were missing out on the more challenging aspects of candidate interviewing—reliability, drive, and grit. We viewed internships as a better way to get to know those aspects of potential hires and, thus, reduce the likelihood of making bad hires.”

In 2016, Quail Park became involved with a Visalia Unified School District program called Visalia Partners in Education (VPE). The program’s objective was to expose students to the spectrum of employment options available to them in their chosen field of study. The five public high schools in the district offer 10 career-themed Linked Learning Academies with programs that combined integrated academic courses, career-themed courses, and work-based learning experiences. The VPE program relies on industry partners to participate in their internship program.

“For example, students in the Health Sciences Academy considering a career in the health care industry might be unaware that assisted living communities even exist, and offer employment opportunities for CNAs, LVNs, RNs, PTs, OTs, nutritionists and more,” says Moyer.

“As an employer, participating in the VPE internship programs provides us with tremendous practical benefits—the potential to find future employees, test drive talent, and increase productivity through low-cost labor in areas which might otherwise be undermanned. The final program perks that sealed the deal for us was that the school district provided both the infrastructure for the internship program, as well as the worker’s compensation insurance for the interns.”

As Manager of Talent Acquisition for Carlton Senior Living in Davis, Katheryn Winter works on the staff development and human resources team to create recruitment strategies for its communities.

“I support our communities to ensure proper staffing of all departments, and also oversee the Carlton University Internship Program, which provides college graduates with experience in the assisted living field with the goal of eventual promotion within the company.”

The internship program is designed to introduce college graduates to the assisted living field over a 12-month period. By shadowing and working in line staff and management roles, interns gain greater insight of both the company and field.

“Our interns fill various roles including personal care aides, servers, activities assistants, clinical managers, executive assistants, and sales managers,” explains Winter. “This internship provides them with an in-depth understanding of what it takes to be a successful leader at Carlton Senior Living.”

Successes and Challenges

Winter says the biggest successes of the Carlton University Internship Program have been the support offered to the communities and the exposure the interns have received.

“Since they are trained in all roles, interns are able to provide direct assistance to the whole community. If we are hosting an event, the interns are able to cook in the kitchen, serve in the dining room, or help with the festivities. They are well-versed in each department, which allows them to be of support wherever a community may need. Our program creates a bridge for the inexperienced college graduates into a management role by giving them the needed experience. Three interns have been hired from this program so far.”

The biggest challenge of the culinary internship program, Moyer says, has been related to recruiting interns and overcoming preconceived notions students have about senior living dining.

“Most students think of senior dining as hospital cafeteria food. In a world filled with glamorous cooking shows like Master Chef, Iron Chef, and Chef’s Table, most culinary students do not dream of working in a senior dining program. It can be a challenge to open their minds to the career path senior living culinary programs can offer them.”

Moyer says that while the dining program at Quail Park at Cypress has benefited from culinary interns, particularly during the holiday season, “I would say our life engagement department has benefitted the most from the expansion of our internship program into other departments. For the past two summers, we have had two activity interns supplementing our busy weekly calendars. As in most assisted living communities, the more hands the activity team has available, the more opportunities residents have for daily engagement—particularly on the off-duty hours of nights and weekends. Our residents love the added summer programs.”

Words of Advice for Implementing an Internship Program

While it can be time-consuming to start an internship program, Winter says, “The benefit of investing in our internship program vastly outweighs any challenges.” Her advice is to start slowly. “We initially started with one intern, and the following year moved to three interns. We started slowly so that we could develop the outline of the internship before we brought too many people onboard.”

If you’d rather work with an established program, Moyer suggests, “Call your school district office and ask if they offer a similar internship program for high school or college students.”

He notes that every successful internship program must include program logistics, or pre-planning; training of the intern; and effective mentoring throughout the length of the internship. “Develop a training program for interns to learn the basics of their job responsibilities, the safety protocols for your community, any senior-specific training you deem necessary.”

When you have the layout of a program in place, make sure that you get buy-in from the rest of the team. Make the point that it is good for a community and its residents, as well as the profession as a whole, because it exposes new potential employees to the benefits of working in senior living. “Every company should invest in this program,” Winter says. “It makes a great deal of sense.”


Lisa Kopochinski is a Sacramento-based editor and writer, who writes for many different industries. Visit www.LisaKCommunications.net or contact her at Lisakop@sbcglobal.net or at 916-481-0265.

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