When it came to choosing a new career path, Crystal Shump knew she wanted to take care of senior citizens.
She’s fascinated by their life stories. She’s inspired by their spirit. She loves their company.
She just didn’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes at the nursing homes where many of them live.
There are piles of paperwork to fill out, intricate finances to sift over, numerous departments to oversee and large-scale projects to run.
Shump has first-hand knowledge of that hard work now, thanks to a program that puts students from Johnson County Community College and Olathe East High School into jobs at Santa Marta, a retirement community in Olathe. It’s made her more sure than ever that being an administrator at a nursing home is her dream job.
Shump is enrolled in the in the administrator-in-training program at Johnson County Community College and she is working on her 480-hour internship at Santa Marta.
It hasn’t been easy. Shump manages a medical practice full-time and spends two half days and some weekends at Santa Marta’s nursing home.
“I’ve learned everything from how the housekeepers make the beds to the day-to-day operations,” she said. “They’re exposing me to the entire spectrum, which is really helpful.”
She’s also delegated important projects.
Right now, Shump is reevaluating Santa Marta’s natural disaster and emergency situation plans, looking at possible improvements and changes.
Since she began her internship in January she has also worked on projects dealing with payroll and maintenance.
“I’ve quickly learned that each department is vital to Santa Marta’s success,” Shump said. “Being an administrator means you have to understand how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”
Her work has impressed her mentor, Ryan Grace, the health services administrator at Santa Marta.
“The value of recognizing our elders seems lost today,” Grace said. “There’s a whole stigma around aging, which makes it even more important that they are cared for. People aren’t getting any younger and we need people willing to embrace the elderly and be an advocate for them.”
But being a nursing home administrator is not for everyone, he pointed out.
“A lot of people get into this work and they end up being chewed up and spit out,” Grace said. “It’s a highly stressful job and the people who do it best are the people who enjoy it. I think that’s why the administrator-in-training program is so important — it shows you the real challenges of the job so you can make up your mind quickly if it’s for you.”
The senior living center also recently hosted three Olathe East High School students for six weeks.
As part of their school’s Career and Community Connections class, the seniors shadowed employees from each department to get a taste of the different jobs available at the facility.
“Most kids think of a senior living center as being just an old folks home,” said Marvie Dirks, the human resource manager for Santa Marta. “They don’t realize there are so many other aspects to it — there is health care, social work, dining, sales and marketing. There is so much variety when it comes to careers here.”
The Olathe students spent one afternoon a week observing various departments at Santa Marta.
In resident services, the students learned how to develop a calendar of activities and how to interact with residents.
In dining, they got a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how dietary managers choose menus.
In sales and marketing, they learned how employees answer specific questions and establish relationships with prospective residents.
Nicole Etherton, who teaches the Career and Community class at Olathe East, said the hands-on experiences offered at Santa Marta is unlike anything she could teach the students in a classroom.
“It’s important high school seniors are exposed to a real workplace environment right now...,” she said. “In a professional setting, they learn about proper communication, dress code, work policies and ethics. These are skills they’re going to need no matter what profession they choose.”
Grace found the students’ enthusiasm encouraging.
“I don’t see many young people having an interest in this field, so it’s nice to see there are some who are seriously considering it,” Grace said. “It seems to be more of a calling than a regular job.”