13 Internship Tips To Jumpstart Your Career

Getting ready to start your recreation therapy internship? You’re probably excited…and a little nervous. Here’s some internship tips to get the most out of experience.

But first, let’s go back in the time machine…

It was more than a few years ago that I started my summer internship. I was ready to start working. Applying what I’ve learned and experienced over the last few years to a real Recreational Therapy setting. I have fond memories and felt it was an amazing learning experience. 

In fact, it was the first time I had the amazing experience of doing a Special Olympics State Track and Field meet. Over the years, I did quite a few more. Some of the lessons during my internship helped shape how I led my team during this amazing…and tiring…weekend trip. 

I also supervised a fair share of interns during my career as a CTRS. And, as you could guess, I had some interns that were passionate and inspiring. Others–not many–seemed unprepared or not ready to fully take advantage of the internship opportunity.

Okay…back to the present.

Ready to make your internship work for you? Here’s some internship tips:

Show Up 100% Everyday

Out of all the internship tips, this may seem obvious, but it doesn’t always happen. An internship isn’t a throwaway part-time summer job to get some extra money for college expenses. Internships are a learning experience…a chance to start growing professionally.  

Take your duties and responsibilities seriously. Show up like you’re excited to work. People will notice…and it will ultimately benefit you.

Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions…even if you think you are being annoying. Chances are your supervisor, or whoever you are working with in the moment, is more than happy to answer your queries. 

Most people like to share their expertise. The benefits are twofold: They feel pride that someone is interested in what they do and they get a chance to help someone learn the ropes of the profession. 

If you feel like the time isn’t right to ask questions–like during a chaotic day or while setting up for a big event–write them down. Revisit them when you have check-ins with your internship supervisor.

Embrace Opportunities

The first time you’re asked to lead a group…EMBRACE IT. You’re getting real world experience. Sure, you may feel a little nervous. Remember this: the best way to learn Recreation Therapy is by DOING it. 

Also, know that even mundane tasks like cleaning equipment, taking inventory, etc. is an opportunity to learn a process you may have to put in place when you are hired for your first Recreational Therapy job. 

Build Your Resource Library 

internship tips taking notes

How does your internship supervisor plan activities, groups, or events? Does your supervisor use books, websites, or other materials regularly?

At the very least, take notes about every recreation therapy activity you do–materials, prep work, instructions, debriefing questions, etc. 

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. See what is working well for your internship site–especially if you plan on working with the same population in the future.

Don’t forget…If you’re looking for an affordable resource, you can check out my book, Therapy Games for Teens…That’s 150 activities you have at your fingertips.

Make Professional Connections

Be sure to connect with all the RTs and those in other disciplines during your internship. Ask them about their jobs. Get tips for implementing activities or dealing with participants. 

During my internship, I worked at a large facility for individuals with developmental disabilities.  My supervisor had me spend a day with his colleagues at two other settings to see how they operate. Ask your supervisor if this is possible. You may become smitten with a setting you never even considered.

Connect with Other Interns

As you learn, share your own internship tips. Stay in touch with your classmates. See how their internships are going. Talk about what you’re experiencing and listen to their experiences. Support each other.

Join a social media group (or start one). Create an email chain. Keep communicating. You’ll probably have a lot to share and get a ton of great ideas.

Use Your Unique Skills

Do you have a hobby or passion you want to share with your participants during your internship? Ask your supervisor. See if you could set up a group or activity based on a leisure interest you love like drawing, hiking, singing, or meditation

If you’re sharing an activity you’re already knowledgeable about, it may take some of the anxiety and stress out of the planning process.

Find Solutions (Teach an Old Dog New Tricks)

Sometimes people get set in their ways. They do things because, well, they formed routines. You’re a fresh set of eyes. You may have insights to make processes faster or activities more engaging.

And, if your supervisor is say, 10 years older or more than you, you may have a firmer grasp of newer technologies that can be beneficial to processes or participants.

Share them. If your ideas get shot down…no big deal.

Write those ideas down. They may be helpful when you land your first job.

Take Feedback with an Open Mind

Throughout your internship, you will probably get feedback from multiple sources–your supervisor (of course), RTs, those in other disciplines, and the participants. Some of this feedback may be unsolicited–especially if you work with older adults or adolescents. 

As an intern, it may be difficult to distinguish constructive feedback from passing opinions. If someone is giving you “drive by” critical comments–take them with a grain of salt. The best feedback includes a chance to discuss and troubleshoot areas that you may need extra support.

Remember: You’re learning. You don’t need to have all the answers. Feedback–in all its forms–is a way to see things from others’ perspective. 

Don’t Be Afraid of Mistakes

You will make mistakes. There will be moments you wish you could take back. It’s normal. It’s expected. Mistakes are actually beneficial. Instead of getting down on yourself for a group that got out of hand or forgetting a key piece of equipment, make it a learning experience. 

After all, some of the most ingrained lessons come when we make mistakes.

Oh…Guess what? Even seasoned Recreational Therapists make mistakes or have weak moments. We’re human. We’re working in a very dynamic field. And, yes, sometimes we don’t have all the answers in any given situation. We improvise, troubleshoot, and evaluate processes afterwards. 

(Don’t tell anyone I told you that.)  

Enjoy the Experience

Like I said, over two decades later, I still have some great memories from my internship. It’s a unique time in your life–one you may never experience again. 

Enjoy the people you work with, the participants you’re helping, and your first BIG opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.  

What If I Hate My Internship?

internship tips for the frustrated image

This is a valid concern. In the perfect world, your internship placement will be the best opportunity for you to learn, grow, and thrive. 

Life isn’t always perfect. Things don’t always go as planned. And that’s okay. 

Remember: At this point in your career–and throughout your career–life hands out difficult, but teachable, moments. Embrace them. Am I sounding like an echo? 

A bad internship experience can include:

  • Not enough support
  • A toxic work environment
  • Working with a population that doesn’t resonate with you
  • Assigned duties you don’t understand
  • Lack of training
  • Being looked down upon
  • Feeling “thrown to the wolves”

If you experience this…take a deep breath. It may not be your fault. Some Recreation Therapy settings can be challenging–for both beginners and seasoned professionals.

Talk to your supervisor about what you’re feeling. If that doesn’t resolve the issues, reach out to the college professor that’s overseeing your internship. 

Even if your internship isn’t resonating with your expectations, know that there is still a lot that can be learned from the experience.  

Oh…and this…

There is No Set Way to “DO” Recreation Therapy 

Sure, there are best practices that ensure a participant’s safety, dignity, ability to thrive. And certain documentation needs to be done depending on the setting. 

Working with people, especially the populations RTs tend to serve, has a lot of gray areas. What works for one participant may cause another to act out. 

You’ll learn that pretty quickly. Actually, you’ll learn a ton by DOING….that’s why there are internships. 

So, during your internship, realize that what you’re learning may work for this facility, but it’s not necessarily the “exact” way to do things. 

Chances are, once you land your first job, you’ll need to be creative, flexible, and willing to adapt what you’ve learned during your internship and elsewhere to succeed as a CTRS.

And soon you’ll have a whole set of internship tips to share with eager minds.

I wish you the best on your internship!

Like it? Share it!

If you found this internship tips article helpful, please share it on your favorite social media platforms. 

You can also join the Real Recreation Therapist Community on Facebook. Introduce yourself, ask a question, or just check out what others are posting.

One other thing…I’m looking to reboot my newsletter. Just a short weekly (or so) email about an activity idea, RT story, or whatever comes to mind.

I love writing blogs, but the process can be time consuming with everything else going on–including a teething toddler (no sleep). My newsletter is a quick, easy way to share some thoughts and ideas.  No spamming, no selling information, just another way to check in. 

Simply scroll down and add your email.

And, of course, if you have any other internships tips or stories about your experience, please comment below!

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