College Students Get “Hands-on” Experience in Mental Health

This summer, the Mental Health Center of Denver offered a summer internship program for current college students or recent graduates who are interested in the medical field. We piloted the formal summer internship program with five slots that were open to current employee or employee family members. Next year, we hope to have more slots and to open it up to more students.

The feedback we got from participants was very positive and several commented how this experience will help guide their future career choices.

We wanted to develop a program that would offer students a realistic look at what working for a community mental health center entailed and provide a meaningful experience that would shape their future career. The interns got to see a typical physician’s, nurse’s or nurse practitioner’s day — observing consumer interactions, documentation and observe firsthand the gratification and pitfalls of working with people who are mentally ill. They also saw the wide range of occupations that are needed in a mental health center, including psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, social workers and housing managers to name a few.  All play important roles and we believe it important for someone interested in mental health to understand how they all function together.

The six-week long hands-on program was aimed at highlighting the many aspects of a community mental health center. Interns met weekly with a doctor assigned to oversee them, shadowed a psychiatrist and a nurse practitioner, were trained in administering mental health exams, toured a residential house and talked with executives about the big picture goals of the organization.

One of our intern’s Randy Quintana remarked, “In other internships, I’ve felt like a wallflower, where we could only observe the doctors. But this internship was incredibly hands-on. I wasn’t afraid to speak up or ask questions and I felt very engaged. I was also so surprised by the diversity of tasks we undertook. It was a great experience.”

The nationwide shortage of mental health professionals isn’t expected to diminish anytime soon. We plan to continue the program next summer and hope the experience will help encourage more people to consider a job as a mental health professional.