Today happens to be the last official day of my internship at the Kent County Health Department. As I look back on my summer, it has been such a valuable and rewarding experience having worked in a local public health agency; the reason I sought an internship here in the first place was to gain familiarity with public health, and boy did I. One might think that the last week would be the easiest as projects wrap up and presentations are rehearsed, but my last week was a little different. In fact, I’d say it was my busiest one yet!
Late last week I was contacted by the health department’s new environmental epidemiologist. She had received concerns about a potential cancer cluster from residents in the area near an old landfill and wanted to investigate the claims and see if there was any solid evidence that something abnormal was occurring. We had tried to do online surveys before, but the response rate was low, so we decided to conduct some “shoe leather epidemiology”, a phrase that I had not heard before but quickly found out was synonymous with “boots on the ground”. I, along with 2 other interns and the epidemiologist, walked around the neighborhood in question surveying residents about their health history related to cancer. We did this for 3 days during possibly the hottest week of summer yet (okay, I’m exaggerating, but it was pretty hot). Although I was exhausted at the end of each day, getting out into the community and talking directly to the people we were trying to help was really rewarding and made it all worth it. While I do not know the exact number of surveys collected, I can make a confident guess that it was around 50. Our epidemiologist has yet to analyze them, but cancer clusters are notoriously hard to investigate so I’m uncertain if our data will tell us anything.
Experiences like this have been my favorite part of this internship, and one in particular stands out: the epidemiology and laboratory component meeting with MDHHS, which happens every 3 months. I was able to attend the meeting that took place in July. We drove to Lansing, MI, and met with representatives from health departments across the state to talk about issues with various infectious diseases such as West Nile, Rabies, and Measles. It was fascinating to hear people from a wide geographic area share similar problems, and also witness how public health agencies collaborate together to prevent disease. I have been so fortunate to have opportunities like these this summer, and I am confident that these experiences will help me in the future as I continue down my path towards a career in medicine/public health.