Ascension Seton’s innovative internship program garners community contribution award


Project SEARCH honored by Texas Hospital Association

Facing many barriers in her personal life, Austin area resident Aleisha considered dropping out of high school.

At the time, she never dreamed she could find a career doing something she loved—until she was selected to participate in Project SEARCH at Seton.

Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.

Project SEARCH prepares and trains young adults with intellectual disabilities to meet the demands of today’s workforce. The internship model is business-led and is a nationally established best practice.

Internships are provided throughout the course of an academic year in complex, systematic areas of health care such as pharmacy, materials management, clinical lab, emergency department, and sterile processing.

During her internship, Aleisha was exposed to working on three different teams at University Medical Center Brackenridge where she learned valuable skills, including stocking medical supplies, assembling case carts for surgeries, performing data entry and preparing educational materials for classes. But it was during the last-leg of her internship at the Clinical Education Center when Aleisha found her true passion in the simulation lab. With the support of the Project SEARCH team and the lab staff, she thrived in the environment.

Today, Aleisha has a full-time job working at the Clinical Education Center’s Simulation Lab,  preparing a complex training environment for doctors and nurses in a realistic setting before performing life-saving procedures on patients. She credits Project SEARCH for her career success.

“I love that I get to help nurses and doctors  provide the best care possible for all patients,” she said.

Aleisha’s story is one example of the powerful effect Project SEARCH can have on a person’s life.

Garnering recognition

This year, Ascension Seton received the Excellence in Community Service Award from The Texas Hospital Association for the vast contribution Project SEARCH makes to the community.

THA’s Excellence in Community Service Award was created in 1995 to honor THA member hospitals or health care systems that contribute to its community by “creating and supporting innovative programs to meet specific needs, improve health status and enhance quality of life.”

“Reflecting the community we serve is key to workforce development at Ascension Seton,” Greg Hartman, chief external and academic affairs officer, told THA. “Diversity touches on all aspects of the workforce, including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. From a business perspective, diversity makes sure you’re not leaving great job candidates off the list,” Hartman said.

About Project SEARCH

Since 2007, 158 young adults have graduated from Seton’s Project SEARCH internship effort. The initiative has achieved an employment outcome of 90 percent – a remarkable result, given  the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities is over twice the rate for people without disabilities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Originally developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Project SEARCH has been replicated in more than 400 hospital sites in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.  Ascension Seton was the first employer to implement Project SEARCH in Texas and is the statewide Texas model.

Interns spend their days immersed in departments they are assigned, working alongside hospital staff to meet the needs of the largest nonprofit health care system in Central Texas. Project SEARCH internships at Ascension Seton emphasize the development of marketable skills and professional experience transferrable to many career fields.

Project SEARCH at Ascension Seton epitomizes collaboration among business, education, government and local disability service providers. By reorienting internal resources, these organizations work together to craft a creative person-centered opportunity focused on successful entry into the competitive workforce. Project SEARCH collaborates with local school districts, Goodwill, and the Texas Workforce Commission.

The seamless combination of wrap-around services provided to each Project SEARCH graduate during and after their internship is essential to ensuring competitive employment. It also helps to further the participants’ personal sense of independence and individuality.