Brittany McHale

Many incredible people have passed through the VACorps internship program since we first started hosting interns in 2006. “Oh the places you’ll go” is a series where our alumni share updates about their careers and life accomplishments. In this latest post, Brittany McHale (Social work internship in South Africa, 2011), checks in from New York City, where she is a Social Work (LMSW) at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center on the pediatric and adult burn unit. Brittany gained incredible personal and professional confidence during her social work internship in South Africa and didn’t waste a single minute of her time in South Africa!

Read her interview below:

Please give us a summary of your career to date. What have you been doing and where do you see yourself heading?

After VACorps, I graduated from Millersville University with a BA in Social Work. I spent 3 years working in an adult psych as a group therapist in a psychiatric hospital and then as a social worker in an outpatient mental health clinic. I moved to New York City to complete my MSW at Columbia University in 2014, where I was placed in an internship with the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center at Columbia University Medical Center.

After graduating, I took a position at the clinic doing research on ALS and other neuromuscular diseases. I received my LMSW in 2017 and began working at NYP-WC as a float on the surgery and neurology services. I have since transferred to the pediatric and adult burn service where my primary roles are to provide support to patients and their families/friends and assisting them with safe discharge planning from the hospital. I have become really interested in working with people who have experienced trauma, specifically burns and would like to continue growing and learning within NYP-WC and the larger burn community. I plan to take my clinical licensing exam in 2020. Further than that, I have dreams of opening my own practice for group and individual therapy. I’d even like to incorporate animal rescue/animal-assisted therapy.

Please describe some of your greatest and most memorable professional achievements.

I presented a poster project for research done at the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center in 2017 and have since been published. Receiving my LMSW was also a great accomplishment that led me into my current position.

What were the highlights of your internship experience in Cape Town?

The entire experience pushed me outside of my comfort zone and allowed me to grow so much as a person and a professional. At my internship, I facilitated my first group, worked with children for the first time and provided individual therapy for the first time! I also had the chance to help out one day per week at an orphanage in Nyanga. I definitely made a fool of myself on several occasions, and the staff and I didn’t even speak the same language but it was humbling and gave me a real insight into the people, culture and challenges in their community.

During my free time, I hiked so many mountains, tried to surf, became a PADI Certified open water scuba diver and crawled through caves that still give me anxiety to think about even now. I traveled to Johannesburg, through Kruger National Park and into Mozambique. I learned a little Xhosa and tried so many new foods!

Brittany during a VACorps Weekly Meet-Up in Cape Town

Brittany pictured during the VACorps trip to Kruger Park and Mozambique in 2011

Can you share an example of how your internship experience aided you with your career?

My internship in Cape Town provided me with many new experiences that helped me in my career. One of the most important was that I facilitated my first ever group session during my internship at a women’s shelter. It was about HIV/AIDS and disclosure. It was so rewarding and gave me the motivation and confidence to apply for my first social work position at an adult psychiatric hospital where I facilitated educational and therapeutic groups and activities. I believe that first position was crucial in setting the path for the rest of my career.

What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give to future VAC interns and/or those considering participation in the program?

Take advantage of EVERYTHING you can while you’re there, both and in and outside of your internship!

Any predictions for what we can expect from you in 10 year’s time?

Hmmm, I have a lot of dreams! I would like to find a way to combine my passions for animal rescue and social work. I would love to be working in private practice using animal-assisted therapy for people who have experienced trauma.