17:00 PM

Northwestern Medicine Project SEARCH Interns Prepare to Join the Workforce

Kaitlyn Umbach of Sycamore is interviewing for jobs and hopes to work with children. It is a huge step for the 21-year-old who is on the autism spectrum. Kaitlyn now has work experience and newly gained confidence thanks to Project SEARCH, a one-year training program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. On Friday, May 21, Kaitlyn and nine of her fellow Project SEARCH interns at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital celebrated at a formal graduation ceremony.

The goal of Project SEARCH is to prepare young people with significant disabilities for success in the workplace. The hallmark of the program is total workplace immersion, along with a combination of classroom instruction and career exploration. At Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital, interns worked in a variety of departments including food service, environmental services, day surgery, physical therapy and patient access.

Participants are in their last year of high school or between the ages of 18 and 21 and transitioning from high school to meaningful work. Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital’s first class of Project SEARCH graduates in 2020 secured 100% employment within 90 days of graduation. Program leaders are optimistic this year’s graduates will also have great success, especially considering they completed the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Onsite team members showed flexibility and determination in overcoming obstacles presented by COVID-related mitigations. Employment specialists rounded on interns in patient facing areas more frequently to ensure safety,” said Karin Podolski, MPH, director of Community Health Services at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital. “Everyone involved showed their dedication to the program’s success through their hard work and perseverance.”

During Kaitlyn’s internship, she focused on deep cleaning to support new COVID-19 protocols throughout the hospital. She learned the value of hard work during her internship, but said what she loves most is helping kids.

“Working at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital helped Kaitlyn gain independence and confidence,” said Kaitlyn’s mother Heather Umbach. “It is wonderful that the managers treat the interns like adults, not children. They held the bar high and I’m so proud that Kaitlyn really stepped up and did what was expected of her.”

Following graduation, disability advocacy group RAMP works with the students to help them secure a job in the community and work toward long-term success and independence as an adult.

For more information about Project SEARCH at Northwestern Medicine, visit https://www.nm.org/for-medical-professionals/i-am-a-student/project-search-information.

To learn more about Northwestern Medicine, visit http://news.nm.org/about-northwestern-medicine.html.