Project SEARCH - William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital
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William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital


Project SEARCH

Donta (center), Project SEARCH participant, pictured with staff from the Materials Management Service, where he was recently hired

Donta (center), Project SEARCH participant, pictured with staff from the Materials Management Service, where he was recently hired.

By Dr. Eileen Ahearn
Thursday, October 21, 2010

On July 8, 2010, the William S. Middleton VA Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, was named an "Employment Champion" at the 4th Annual Project SEARCH International Conference in Miami Beach. The hospital was recognized as one of several sites who found paid employment for 100% of its Project SEARCH interns.

Project SEARCH is a program that provides job training for individuals with significant disabilities. The focus of the program is to immerse students in the culture of a business by providing them with on-site internships. These internships or work rotations are designed to teach students meaningful job skills that will ultimately lead to their employment either at the Project SEARCH business or with other employers in the community.

In late 2008, the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, became the first VA Hospital in the United States to begin a Project SEARCH Program.  Michele Ritt, a teacher provided by the Madison Metropolitan School District, is based full-time at the hospital and provides instruction to students on a variety of general job skills as well as specific job instruction. "Project SEARCH is the world as it should be.  Every person has talents to share," Ritt said.  

Students are currently working in the Medical Library, Ambulatory Care, Mental Health Clinic, Materials Management, Anticoagulation Clinic, Nutrition & Food Services, Inpatient Pharmacy, several Primary Care Clinics, SPD/Central Sterilization and the Patient Education Resource Center.  Plans are under way for potential expansion into the Emergency Department and additional clinics. "The young adults in Project SEARCH bring joy and enthusiasm to the VA workplace", said Dr. Eileen Ahearn, one of the hospital's Project SEARCH Liaisons. "They help us to accomplish the daily work of the hospital."

A typical day for a Project SEARCH student includes:

  • Classroom instruction at the hospital in employability and job related skills.
  • Regular work in hospital departments.
  • Feedback from the teacher and job coaches at the end of each day

After only 2 years, the project has already proven to be a great success.  The staff greatly enjoys the students and their efforts in the daily functioning of the hospital, as illustrated by the following comments: "We so appreciate Donta's willingness to learn new things and his ‘can do' spirit. We look forward to his smile in the morning", said Amy Pidsosny, Materials management Service. "No one realized how much Peter offered until he took off a week due to the school schedule", Almeda Williams, Chief, Nutrition & Food Services said.


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