Working In Public Health in the Time of COVID-19
In September 2019, long before COVID-19 dominated global media, I decided to contact my local public health office and apply for an internship. Months later, there was a new lens for an internship planned to focus on writing the community health assessment and shadowing specific public health departments.
In April, I knew that working in public health at the height of the pandemic was no easy job. I knew that my internship would be nothing like my predecessors; it would be filled with addressing community fear and uncertainty. My experience would be far more than simply an introduction to a career in a field that I'm interested in.
Luckily, my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado is supported by a wonderful public health agency, Mesa County Public Health (MCPH). I spent the summer months working with the Epidemiology branch, conducting case investigation and contact tracing, supporting the community outreach branch with outbreaks in high-risk settings, and conducting cross-department meetings. My experience interning with MCPH was irreplaceable. Never would I have thought it would revolve around a global pandemic or have such a significant impact on my community.
A key reason I was able to pursue such an experience was through a grant from St. Lawrence University called the Public Health Internship Fellowship Grant. Established in 2019 and funded by an anonymous donor, the award is designed to support the public health program by providing internship experiences for students interested in the field. I was thrilled to be one of the students who benefitted from this award. Without it, I would not have been able to accept a full-time unpaid internship. It is astonishing the number of resources that are available for St. Lawrence students who are passionate about investigating a career that interests them.
My biggest takeaway from my internship is the understanding of community health as multifaceted. The health of a population along with its attitude or perception about health is complex and determined by various social determinants of wellness and wellbeing. Working for a community of people with diverse political beliefs, habits, and education levels posed challenges to communicating accurate information about necessary precautions. I learned how to communicate to audiences with varying needs, a skill that is essential when thinking critically about the wellbeing of a community.
One question that I'm asking myself now is, "how I can apply what I learned throughout my public health internship further into St. Lawrence and beyond?" Recently, I'm spending my time reaching out to alumni working in the field and using my internship as a stepping stool. It provided essential and valuable knowledge that can propel me further into the job market. In doing so, I have realized that I am passionate about science that helps real communities. I now have bigger goals for my time after St. Lawrence because my internship sparked new career interests.
My internship is also integrated in my coursework, and I anticipate that it will help me succeed after St. Lawrence. I am grateful and proud of my work at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the help of my mentors along the way.
Read more about Lily's fellowship and her experience at Mesa County Public Health.