For my STEP signature project, I was accepted to do a summer internship at the Forsyth County Health Department in Georgia so I could further explore the field of public health. During this internship I would be able to shadow and assist on daily appointments and see the inner workings of how a public health department is run and the day to day procedures that occur from patient interaction to paperwork. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me because of my interest in the field of public health and my desire to eventually receive my Master’s degree in Public Health so I can one day have a career in the field.
One of the big questions I had going into this project was whether or not I could handle the day to day activities that a public health professional had to deal with – did I only like public health in theory or could I really do this as my career? Up until this point I had learned about the details of public health – I had learned about epidemiology and different healthcare plans but this last summer I got to learn about the people. People were a huge part of public health, and their behaviors have the ability to make a huge impact on different public health issues. Whether or not I had the capability to work with a variety of people and to be able to get them to open up to me would be key in my success in the field of public health.
Ultimately, I am a people person and one of the reasons I chose to pursue a career in the field of public health is because I wanted to deal with people rather than simply sit at a desk all day working with numbers that did not have much of a meaning to people. I wanted to be able to put those numbers and information to people and be able to see why things were the way they were and I was given that opportunity every day when I went to my internship, from seeing different TB test results, to getting to shadow the head epidemiologist I got to see the people aspect of public health this past summer. It further proved to myself that the field of public health is where I could see myself working for my career after school. I was also able to see the way that politics was heavily tied into the healthcare industry, even at a local level when it was not concerning the overall healthcare plan. Learning about these connections gives me a better understanding of the field and gave me the opportunity to adapt to different situations I may not have seen myself in otherwise.
Every day at my internship I got to work with amazing public health nurses who dealt with things from checkups for kids who moved in for the new school year to STD cases to severe Tuberculosis cases. We had to deal with social issues that often had a crossover into one’s medical issues such as distrust of the government, religion, and parental concerns. Often times in order to overcome these, facts were not the answer that patients needed but in fact they needed a sympathetic person to calmly explain that we were all on the same side. In fact, here my ability to relate to minority groups since I am part of one and my ability to speak another language came as an unexpected handy tool. There were a couple of instances in particular where I would be in the examination room and the patient and after the nurse would give a particular diagnosis/suggestion sometimes the patient would turn to me and ask what I thought of this despite me being severely underqualified to give her an answer myself. Here what was needed was someone the patient could relate to, despite the qualifications, so even though I would just echo what the nurse had said it seemed more legitimate to them since I also agreed and we were a part of the same group of people.
Overall, this experience was an amazing opportunity for me to further my commitment, connections, and understanding of the field of public health. I was able to meet some really amazing people who do what I want to do with my life and I was able to apply what I learned in the classroom into real life. I was also able to pick up new skills and develop a new understanding of people – in order to treat their physical needs they needed their mental needs attended to first, whether that be someone they can relate to or simply someone they can talk to in order to quell their doubts.