Chrissy Burchette, a 2020 nursing graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, spent the summer of 2019 at EMU's Washington Community Scholars' Center. The program provides professional internships, coursework and the opportunity to live and work in Washington D.C. Burchette interned at a rehabilitation center and says the experience has proven invaluable in her nursing studies and now as she looks for a permanent position. (Courtesy photo)

WCSC internship boosts 2020 nursing grad’s prospects

“My time at WCSC definitely helped me to gain the tools to build effective therapeutic relationships with clients of all health backgrounds. The tools I gained will live in me throughout my nursing career.”

Chrissy Burchette ’20

Chrissy Burchette, a recent 2020 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University’s nursing program, is getting ready to take the state boards and apply for jobs in pediatrics [update: after this article was published, Chrissy passed her boards and was hired by Sentara RMH in Harrisonburg].

She feels ready for the workforce, in part because of her experiences last summer at the Washington Community Scholars’ Center. The program places students in pre-professional internships and provides vocational guidance, as well as for-credit courses and the opportunity to live and work in an intentional community in Washington D.C.

Chrissy Burchette ’20, a nursing major who spent the summer of 2019 at the Washington Community Scholars’ Center, takes a break outside Ben’s Chili Bowl in summer 2019. Because of restrictions, we’re not able to share photos of her at her internship site, but this still captures some of the experience of living and working in Washington D.C.! (Courtesy photo)

Burchette recalls the experience as “truly remarkable,” one that offered not only the chance to make strong friendships but also gain valuable work experience. Her placement brought her into relationships with elderly patients, many of whom had dementia, at a nursing home and rehabilitation center. She was able to practice and apply one of the foundational models of EMU’s unique nursing curriculum, the “sacred covenant.”

“My time at WCSC definitely helped me to gain the tools to build effective therapeutic relationships with clients of all health backgrounds,” she said. “The tools I gained will live in me throughout my nursing career.”

WCSC co-director Kimberly Schmidt says nursing, pre-med  and other pre-professional health sciences majors have great opportunities in Washington D.C. to find rewarding and challenging internships. For many students in these programs with demanding course schedules, finding time for the required cross-cultural experience is difficult. Summer is one option, but with foresight and planning, students can fulfill cross-cultural requirements and gain valuable on-the-job training in the fall and spring as well, said Schmidt.

Read on to learn more about Chrissy’s time at WCSC.

For my 10-week internship, I worked at a nursing and rehabilitation center, which cares for elder individuals who are particularly vulnerable and of low socioeconomic status. Within my internship, I assisted the activities director in the implementation of daily unit activities.

This experience fit well within my education as a senior nursing major, as it provided me the tools to build effective therapeutic relationships with clients of all health backgrounds. Many of the patients I worked with were diagnosed with dementia, giving me the opportunity to work with a population of individuals with an unpredictable disease.Within the span of 30 minutes, patients could go from giving me advice and telling me past stories, to not knowing who I am and showing combative behavior. My plans after graduation include working with the pediatric population. Although this is the complete opposite from the population I was working with at my internship, the tools I gained from elderly patients will allow me to utilize therapeutic relationships within the pediatric population who exhibit unpredictable behavior as well. 

The opportunity to communicate and empathize with others who are going through a difficult time was my favorite experience within WCSC, as it furthered my ability to utilize the “sacred covenant” of the EMU nursing program. The sacred covenant describes several aspects of the Holy Bible including: agape love, justice, advocacy, empowerment, grace, partnership, presence, reconciliation and service. Through the use and understanding of these topics, nurses will be able to build effective therapeutic relationships with their patients. My internship allowed me to implement these aspects of the sacred covenant. As I built these relationships, I was able to cry with my patients and pray with them.

Although I graduated from this program several months ago, the tools I gained will live in me throughout my nursing career. The ability to truly empathize with my patients is a tool that often gets overlooked due to heavy workloads and short staffing. However, I believe that the empathy I learned through my internship will now come naturally, and I will be able to utilize this technique with all my patients regardless of staffing issues. 

A memorable experience I have from this summer is when I set up a nail salon. Another young volunteer and I decided to set up a spa day. I downloaded a Michael Jackson playlist on my phone after hearing he was a favorite among the residents. The volunteer and I began to have “girl talk”—about boys, clothes, and anything else we could make up—and we succeeded in helping the residents to relax. The smiles and laughs we saw on the residents were truly remarkable; one could tell the residents missed this type of bonding. I had never seen these patients laugh before, but on this day we couldn’t get them to stop. 

I encourage students to consider the WCSC program. I learned that you don’t need to go across the country to experience a cultural shock. The friends I made within the WCSC house will be my friends for years to come as we still meet up to this day. The Washington Community Scholars’ Center experience was truly remarkable and I am so glad I chose it.