Brittany’s Life Changing Winter Break: Brain Injury Rehabilitation Externship

Nathan Parcells
Brittany’s Life Changing Winter Break: Brain Injury Rehabilitation Externship

This is a guest post from Brittany Jaso who is a student at Cornell University majoring in psychology. Writing this two line bio was the most stressful thing she’s done in a long time.

There are a lot of wonderful things about winter break — sleeping a ridiculous amount of hours, eating wonderful home cooked meals, and participating in the holiday traditions to name a few. However, at some point you can only watch so much TV and with three long weeks looming after the holidays it’s easy to get a little stir crazy or even just bored.

At least, that’s how I felt. This is the exact reason I decided to take advantage of our alumni network and participate in something we refer to at school as an “externship.” An externship is a mini-internship that can last anywhere from a 1 hour interview with a professional in a potential field of interest, to a 5-day shadowing. I opted for the latter, and found myself shadowing all sorts of doctors at the St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey. It was probably the most beneficial experience I have had so far in my life. It’s one thing to dream of being a doctor; it’s a whole other thing to witness the hardships and emotional drain that the profession demands.

Being a psychology major, I spent a large majority of my time in a lockdown wing of the hospital called the BIR- Brain Injury Rehabilitation. These people had experienced strokes, car crashes, and other life changing accidents that left them mentally and physically disabled. They had to learn a new way of living. I can say, I’ve never met such happy and optimistic people. Simple tasks we take for granted such as using a toaster became an accomplishment some patients had to work on for weeks. It gives you a new perspective on life and makes you appreciate the things we can do independently.

I spent three days working with, discussing, and observing speech therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists (they work on helping the patients be able to function in a household setting), pediatricians, physicians, and clinical psychologists. I learned so much in that short period of time. I never understood the complexity and flexibility that was required from all of the different doctors. No two patients had the same needs. The speech therapist worked with one patient on memory; 30 minutes later she was helping another man deal with his inability to read because his entire left field of vision was destroyed due to a stroke. It demanded a lot of collaboration between all of the doctors to make sure the patient was being treated for every aspect of their life. They all had one goal, make sure the patient could eventually leave the hospital and be confident in their ability to live on their own.

Even though I only spent three days in my externship, I learned so much and had such a better understanding of the hospital environment. It gave me a new perspective and helped me to understand that yes, I think I can work in that profession!

Not every school may have such a formal set-up like organizing an externship program every year but that does not mean you can’t set it up on your own! Here are a few tips to help you stave off winter break boredom and find a great externship.
Look up alumni living near you in a profession you may be interested in; odds are they’d love to help!
• Keep it short. A lot of scheduling and planning goes into this on the host’s end; make it easier for them.
• Come prepared with questions. There is nothing more gratifying for your host than being able to answer questions and see your excitement about what they do.
• Be polite! Thank you notes for everyone you worked with are mandatory!
• Lastly, ENJOY! Have fun, share the experience with others, and get off the couch for a few days during winter break!