by Nicole Coutlangus
One of the first undergraduate students to ever be accepted as an intern for Indiana University's Behavioral Health Unit in Bloomington, Ind., is Shandi Gerkin, a psychology major currently finishing her final year in the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Woods Online program. A Bedford, Ind., native, Gerkin said that her experience in the Behavioral Health Unit helped develop her professionalism, and deepened her passion for the field of mental health. In fact, her initial experience there was so positive, she was asked to return for a second semester.
Gerkin worked directly with Dr. Donna M. Bard, the unit manager. As Dr. Bard’s intern, many of Gerkin’s duties came with a high degree of responsibility, and included patient discharge and aftercare planning, co-facilitating group therapy, performing patient assessments, and dictating and navigating patient records. A pivotal part of her experience also included direct contact with doctors, nurses, therapists, psychologists, and, most gratifying of all, patients and families. “The most rewarding part of the work,” she said, “was witnessing the success of therapy and the improved well-being of patients under our care. Family members often thanked us too, and that provides a great feeling of accomplishment.”
Further, Gerkin explained, thoughtfully, that what is most rewarding about her desired field also happens to be the most trying: “It is challenging to know that the patients who are admitted to the unit are in a state of crisis, and that your words and actions could have a direct effect on their well-being.” It is this aspect of the field of mental health, the safekeeping of another’s well-being, that has her so grateful for professional experience prior to graduation.
Gerkin also explained why she is so adamant about others participating in an internship. “There is a huge difference between definition and application. During classes, I learned the definition of several psychology terms. During my internship, I witnessed how those definitions are applied to the profession.” She also realized that internships are an incomparable opportunity for potential employers to witness your strong work ethic, and subsequently envision you in a possible position.
Dr. Bard definitely took notice of her potential; when asked about Gerkin’s performance, she had myriad compliments, including that she displayed ethical and honest behavior, was a quick learner, and motivated others to succeed. All of these innate qualities are vital to the work of a mental health professional, and they seemed to work to her advantage.
It is also apparent that Gerkin has been strongly affected by her experiences with those who are sick and suffering. In fact, she explained that the most unforgettable work she did was helping with group therapy: I was exposed to several different mental health issues, and was able to witness how the patients can actually help each other without even knowing it.”
As a whole, Gerkin’s internship had a threefold benefit. She was able to help patients feel better, ease the workload of the unit’s busy employees, and build crucial roots and connections in her desired field. Given that she is someone who cares so much about others, one can determine that her experience felt pretty good.