Project SEARCH has a long-standing presence in Knoxville, providing programs to help adults with developmental  disabilities learn job skills and find gainful employment. In 2019 Parkwest Medical Center proudly partnered with Knox County Schools and Sertoma, which provides local opportunities for support, work and friendship to adults with intellectual disabilities, to offer the community’s first program for students ages 18-22 who are still in high school. The program continues throughout the school year at Parkwest Medical Center, which recently welcomed its newest group of student interns.

Project SEARCH interns pictured with hospital senior leaders.
Project SEARCH interns met recently with Parkwest’s senior leadership team to share their experiences, and for leaders and interns to get to know each other better.

The overall goal is for the students to learn viable job skills and obtain employment within the school year. Employment can be sought at the host site or elsewhere in the community. At Parkwest, Project SEARCH interns learn job skills by training in at least three different departments within the medical center. Interns are placed in rotations in departments including central supply, nursing units, housekeeping, food services, pre-op, and surgery. The newest interns applied at the end of the previous school year, completing skills training assessments and interviews with program leaders.

Ashley in surgical scrubs pushing bed through hallway.
Intern Ashley is training in the surgery department, transporting patient beds to patient floors.

“It’s an honor to host Project SEARCH at Parkwest Medical Center. Our new group of interns is truly amazing. It’s inspiring to learn about their experiences in their various rotations, and the takeaways that will continue to help them successfully build job skills,” said Devan Johnson, Parkwest chief administrative officer. “We’re so glad they’re part of our Parkwest family.”

Jacob checking a list in front of linen cart in closet.
Intern Jacob is making sure adequate levels of inventory are available in the linen department.

The interns also participate in classroom activities focusing on team building, workplace safety, technology, self-advocacy, maintaining employment, financial literacy, health and wellness, and preparing for employment. The curriculum is taught by Knox County Schools instructor Shannan Dean and skills trainer Tabitha Rodriguez. Additional support is offered by Sertoma skills trainers Tara Caruthers and Ashley Copeland.

“Sertoma has been extremely fortunate to partner with Parkwest for such an impactful program within our community. Project SEARCH provides each intern an environment to discover and grow as well as job placement post internship which empowers an intern to develop and thrive. Job placement allows the intern to utilize the learned skills during the
course of the program into valuable, long-term employment.” said Copeland, who is employment manager at Sertoma.

“Every step, either big or small, has been a joy to watch through the eyes of Parkwest’s employees. Our Project SEARCH interns have become more than trainees and have found a real place  within the Parkwest family,” added Dean, who works with the interns daily.

Kailee pictured with cart full of supplies in hallway.
Intern Kailee is providing excellent service on 3 Dogwood.

From Internship to Employment

Parkwest Medical Center currently employs four Project SEARCH program graduates including Spencer and Adam in materials management, and Sklyer and Braden in waste removal.

Intern Chris checking off supplies in materials management.
Intern Chris is in Materials Management, pulling
supplies to stock patient floors.

Job Skills Learned at Parkwest

Some of the skills learned by interns in various Parkwest departments include:

  • Central Supply: Stock shelves, stock supply rooms, fill pick lists/ orders, deliver supplies and break down boxes.
  • Patient floors: Make admission kits, stock isolation cubbies and patient rooms, deliver and pick up food trays, provide patients with towels and washcloths, pass out ice water to patients, and remove linen bags and trash.
  • Housekeeping: Empty trash receptacles, maintain lobby areas, clean surface areas and restrooms, dress stretchers and beds with linens and clean patient rooms.
  • Food Services: Bag and tag bakery items, prep food and operate the industrial dishwasher.
  • Pre-op: Make bed rolls, stock drawers in patient rooms and refrigerators, and dress stretchers with linens.
  • Surgery: Clean surgery rooms after surgery and prepare anesthesia area, sanitize and transport stretchers and beds.
  • Linen: Build linen carts and deliver linen to departments.

More About Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH’s primary objective is to secure competitive employment for people with disabilities. The program was began in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. In 1996, the emergency department director initiated a program to train and hire people with developmental disabilities to fill some of the department’s entry-level positions that involved complex and systematic tasks. The project eventually grew to an international network of training programs and work sites.

For more information about the Project SEARCH intern program at Parkwest Medical Center, contact Knox County instructor Shannan Dean by  emailing