Melissa Eperjesi STEP Project: Summer Internship with JDRF

For my STEP Signature Project, I was able to serve as an intern at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or JDRF, Central Ohio at their office in Worthington. Throughout my internship, I was able to work with JDRF to plan community programs for the JDRF families in the Columbus area, as well as compile information for the weekly newsletter that is emailed to families involved with Central Ohio’s JDRF chapter.

Coming into this internship experience as a person with type 1 diabetes, I assumed that I would be changed in some way after my internship was over. I did not realize, however, how great that change would be in my life. I found myself becoming more confident with managing my diabetes through working with the JDRF children and families. Additionally, I was able to more personally understand how health literacy issue impact so many individuals and families. I had to keep this in mind as I was writing the weekly newsletter.

The very first JDRF event that I attended as an intern was their annual gala event. I was tasked with aiding with advocacy and fundraising, as well as watching over the youth ambassadors while they performed their various duties throughout the night. It was beyond inspiring to witness the ambassadors’ transparency and confidence throughout the night as they discussed their journey with type one diabetes to guests.

Personally, having been diagnosed with type one over 11 years ago, I can say that they challenged me to push myself out of my comfort zone, and be “more proud,” to say that I have the disease. While it might be some peoples’ preference to conceal their diabetes, this option did not seem viable to the youth ambassadors. They were excited to let everyone know about their disease, so as to be their own public health advocates in fighting toward a cure. I was most definitely inspired by the youth ambassadors that night. This energy was carried on by the youth ambassadors and children within other JDRF families through the various programs that I helped to plan, and then attend throughout the summer such as research updates, family social gatherings, and other fundraising events.

I think that another key perspective that I was able to gain during my time at JDRF completely unrelated to myself was the fact that health literacy, or the lack thereof, is really not universal. In some of my public health classes, we discuss the fact that, in the United States, the average individual reads at a 6th grade level. I honestly did not expect this fact to so deeply affect the work that I did with the newsletter throughout the summer. When compiling information for the weekly newsletter, I would have to have it censored by both of my bosses just to “peer review,” in a way. This act was to make sure that families who have requested that the newsletter be reported in a lower-literacy level in the past, would have their needs met. Then one day, it really sunk in for me. I have been able to attend great schools up to and including college; I would like to think that my literacy is pretty great in terms of reading and understanding basic scientific and logistical information. However, I then took a step back and realized that not all individuals with type 1, or someone in a family with a with type 1, may not have had this same “literacy experience,” as I and others have had. This information is still crucial for them to understand too. Thus, my work in the newsletter was extremely important, and really rewarding when I discovered how much it meant to our families that it was written in a more health-literate manner.

After graduating in the Spring of 2018 with my Sociological BSPH, I will remain at O.S.U. for one more year, as I finish the combined Bachelors and Masters program through The College of Public Health. I will then graduate in the Spring of 2019 with my MPH in Health Behavior and Health Promotion with a concentration in Communication. I plan to utilize my education in working toward the goal of becoming a certified diabetes educator for people with type 1 diabetes, like myself. I believe that my internship experience with JDRF allowed me to comprehend how truly important community and public health programs are in advocating for awareness around a certain community or cause. Additionally, I witnessed the first-hand, empowering nature of these programs on JDRF families and those with type 1. I feel that my viewing health as a holistic well-being, rather than just a presence or lack of a physical ailment, was further solidified through my experiences with JDRF. These ideals will continually appear through my treating and educating patients about their disease.