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My career: my internship at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

- Emily Ocwieja, Mt. Prospect, Ill.


Student Emily Ocwieja shares her experience as a summer intern, following her junior year, at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago where she enhanced her nursing education by working in an innovative rehabilitation setting.

This past summer I had the opportunity to work as a nurse intern at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (“RIC”). I worked in the Patient Recovery Unit, which consisted of a wide range of patient diagnoses such as spinal cord injury, traumatic and non-traumatic brain injury, stroke, motor vehicle accidents, and cancer. Because RIC is ranked the #1 rehabilitation hospital in the country, there are patients from around the world. My floor specifically worked with a lot of international patients from Saudi Arabia, allowing me to strengthen my ability to provide culturally competent care.

My internship offered me many opportunities to hone my critical thinking skills and work on time management. My daily routine consisted of managing 5-7 patients, making sure they were prepared for a rigorous day of therapy. I would assist patients with their activities of daily living, such as feeding, dressing and basic hygiene. Along with assisting patients with their activities of daily living, I was allowed to perform urinary catheterizations, bowel programs, tracheostomy suctioning, wound dressing changes, enteral feedings, blood glucose checks, and vital signs. Additionally, I gained a lot of confidence in patient transferring from bed to chair or commode through stand pivots, slide boards, and mechanical lifts.


Given the patient population I worked with, I was introduced to the advanced world of medical technology. My floor had a track in the ceiling that patients were strapped into during physical therapy sessions. This ceiling track allowed patients to work on their mobility and promote a natural gait when walking. Rehabilitation nursing is physically demanding. We used mechanical lifts to move spinal cord injury patients from bed to chair; this tool allowed us to effectively move patients in a timely manner, while at the same time protecting our bodies. My floor also utilized the Ability Lab, a clinical lab with advanced technology that helps improve the strength and mobile functioning of our patients. The Ability Lab includes technologically advanced treadmills, stair climbers, and bikes, all of which are user friendly for our wide range of patients. I saw firsthand prosthetics and braces being constructed and personally fitted to our patients right in the hospital.

Rehabilitation nursing is unlike any kind of nursing I have read about or experienced in my clinical practice. Rehabilitation nursing requires teamwork to effectively care for our patients and ourselves. When our patients are admitted, we see them when their world is upside down. Many do not know if they will be able to walk again, use their hands to perform daily tasks, or even effectively communicate with their loved ones.  Our goal is to advance human ability. The RIC symbol is a tree with 8 branches. The first 7 branches have 5 leaves and the 8th branch has 6 leaves.  The idea behind this symbol is that our patients come in “broken” or with a disability and by the time they have completed their stay, we have put them back together so they can competently function in society, representing the 8th branch.

Recently, U.S. News and World Report ranked the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago the number 1 rehabilitation hospital in the country for the 26th consecutive year. I saw first hand the hard work and dedication it takes to work at such a consistently highly ranked institution. I also witnessed the positive effects rigorous therapy sessions can have on patients. I am eager to share my experience with my classmates and faculty this upcoming semester. It was a rewarding experience and I am thankful I had the opportunity to work at RIC.