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Dawson (right) with his supervisor, Eddy (middle) and co-worker Spencer (left) who both won Internship Impact Awards

If you’re thinking of becoming a direct care provider, you may worry that you don’t have the right personality to work effectively with people who have disabilities.

Perhaps you’ve never really interacted with differently abled people, and as a result have no idea how you’d do working with them as an assistant, caretaker and companion.

Chances are, you’ll do just fine as long as you believe in treating others with kindness, dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances. While you may experience a learning curve when it comes to medical and behavioral procedures, you’ll likely find that working with those with disabilities just requires a bit of extra patience and compassion.

“Come in with an open mind and willingness to learn from other staff — and more importantly, each resident,” advises medical student Dawson Cooper. “Expect to learn more about yourself than you originally thought you would.”

Speaking from experience: Calm, caring and competence are key 

The University of Minnesota alumnus first joined ACR Homes as an inexperienced undergrad, and went on to log more than 2,000 hours on the job as a DCP. He cites the most important core qualities of a DCP as “empathy, patience, curiosity, passion, flexibility, caring and the ability to see the best in people.

“The biggest misconception would be that our residents don’t want the same things fully independent people want,” he explains. “Respect, the ability to communicate needs and the opportunity to pursue goals are the core components of everyone I have worked with. But no two residents are the same, and developing that dialogue is pivotal in providing the best care possible.”

Another key trait for DCPs, he says, is the capacity to solve problems calmly and competently.

“You must learn to be flexible in regard to your decision making and overall ability to ask the same things in different ways,” he explains. “What might work now may very well turn out not to in the future, which makes problem solving all the more important. (But) ACR does a really solid job of preparing you before you are fully autonomous and having to deal with high stress situations such as emotional outbursts. Whether that be shadow shifts, training at the main office or house-specific trainings, you will be prepared for any given situation. “

Cooper’s favorite aspect of work as a DCP, he says, was helping ACR residents get out and interact in the local community.

“Competencies I gained include patience, the ability to communicate in a wide variety of situations, confidence in my ability to deliver quality healthcare in a team-based setting and the ability to handle the high-stress situations inherent in many healthcare positions,” he notes. “This position is unique in that we are given the opportunity to establish connections with our residents while learning and utilizing some of the core competencies expected of many pre-health students.

“You never really know what you are going to be walking into each shift,” he adds. “The variety is fantastic.”