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Northwestern Medicine Offers Unique Internship for People With Disabilities

When Christian Sullivan walks the halls of Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital as a Project SEARCH intern, he is not alone. By his side walks his service dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Zeke.

Sullivan, a 21-year-old from Villa Park, Illinois, has brought his talents to Northwestern Medicine through Project SEARCH, an organization that helps young people with disabilities learn personal and professional skills. Project SEARCH brings many different agencies together to create an environment where people with disabilities can get immersive work experience before entering the competitive work market.

The organization also supports their search for employment in an area that meets their interests and abilities.

Comprehensive Training

Project SEARCH participants start their days with about an hour of classroom instruction. Then, they are off to their internships. Sullivan currently works with the Supply Chain team. He reads tickets with item numbers, collects the items from storage, packages them and then delivers them to the department that submitted the request.

“It’s important, and I really like what I do,” he says. “I pick up really quickly and am naturally very observant.”

Traci Coughlin and Chloe Suter are both Project SEARCH skills trainers who have mentored Sullivan. With support from Coughlin and Suter, Sullivan and Zeke model real-life situations and then collaborate to work through them in real time.

Coughlin and Suter agree that they consider Sullivan’s needs as well as Zeke’s during these training sessions. “We explore the accommodations and support systems that are needed for them to be successful as a team,” they explain.

In addition to his work, Sullivan also uses his time to advocate for and spread awareness of people living with disabilities. He has even started a YouTube channel, where he shares videos about his disability, Zeke, his experience with Project SEARCH and more.

A key message that Sullivan shares is that his disability does not define who he is; it’s simply a part of who he is. “Give people with disabilities a chance to show their potential,” he says. “We bring unique skills to the table that you might not realize. We just aren’t often given the chance.”