In 2019, UCLA Health will mark 10 years of involvement with Project SEARCH®, a unique transition-to-work program for young adults with intellectual disabilities. The yearlong program immerses participants in the UCLA Health workplace through a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration and work site rotations that provide hands-on job training.
“We started with four student interns who rotated through three departments at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center,” says Kristin DiMirez, senior recruiter, UCLA Health Talent Acquisition. “In 2018, we had our largest class yet with 12 student interns currently receiving education and hands-on experience across 13 different departments at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.”
UCLA Health partners with PathPoint, a local nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities lead independent lives. PathPoint employees serve as job coaches for the student interns and provide classroom instruction on topics including money management, resume development and job interview preparation. Participants also work on improving social skills. Students perform intern duties and attend classes Monday through Friday. Every three months, the interns rotate to a new department and learn a new job.
“The ultimate goal at the end of the program is for each student to gain competitive employment,” says DiMirez. “We provide them with opportunities to develop skills that are desired in a workplace.” Since the program’s inception, 69 students have completed Project SEARCH, with 61 percent of the graduates finding competitive employment within one year of graduation. UCLA Health currently employs 17 former student interns.
Project SEARCH interns perform a range of duties, including clerical work (data entry, filing and mail delivery), janitorial services, and patient transport and assistance. Over the years, participating UCLA Health departments have included nursing administration, nutrition, materials management, information technology, environmental services, marketing, laundry, human resources and environmental health and safety. “Each intern is supervised by a PathPoint coach, so participating departments receive a lot of support,", says Michael Baca, director of materials management at UCLA Health.
DiMirez calls the program an all-around win for UCLA Health, student interns and the community. “The students have such a great attitude. They’re eager to work and take pride in mastering a task and doing it well,” she says. “They bring a lot of joy to everyone who works with them.”
Student interns are referred to UCLA Health via Pathway at UCLA Extension, a program for young adults with intellectual and developmental delays, as well as Westside Regional Center, a nonprofit corporation that contracts with the California Department of Developmental Services to provide services to people with developmental disabilities.