|Issue 2, November 2006|
As the HBHE 2nd Poster session always reveals, HBHE students do great work during their summer internships. Here are two stories about how 2nd year students flexed their public health muscles in the real world this summer.
Karina Robles – Mental Health Services for Community Elders near Boston
Karina Robles is pursuing a dual degree MPH/MSW with a focus in aging and will be graduating this December. This summer, she worked as a Community Health Educator in the Community Outreach Program for Elders (COPE) at Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. CHA is a community-focused health system that includes hospitals, outpatient centers, Cambridge Public Health Department and a physician network. Karina’s program was within the area of geriatric mental health services. She discovered her internship while compiling a library of internship opportunities for public health students interested in aging for a class project.
Karina at the HBHE Poster Session
Karina’s internship was a perfect complement to her focus on aging and health education. Like many students, the actual work she completed was a bit different than she expected. But, her internship offered her a wide range of interesting experiences. Among other things, Karina researched and reported on the appropriateness of the cultural competence tools being used by CHA in regards to mentally ill elders. She also produced a brochure about the COPE program for public audiences. She educated staff members about the connections between mental health and physical health in homebound elders. Karina participated in program planning and was very excited when they asked her to create a logic model!
Karina said she was glad to have taken Program Development before doing her internship, but she said that taking the Evaluation course would have been helpful too. However, she said that now she has some real experience to relate to her evaluation course this semester. The hardest part of the internship for Karina was learning to deal with the lack of structure and the slower pace of work at her agency. “I’m used to much more fast-paced work,” she explained. But, the somewhat flexible structure meant she had time to explore the city.
Ultimately, Karina’s internship was a success. She had a great time in Boston, learned about Paul Revere, visited the first public beach in the U.S., made some great professional connections and realized that she wants her career to be focused on managing health programs for elders.
Alice Zheng is pursuing her MPH in HBHE with an interdepartmental concentration in Global Health. This summer, she worked on an obstetric fistula repair project in Kampala, Uganda for the EngenderHealth/ACQUIRE project funded by USAID. Alice earned the top prize in the HBHE Field Experience Poster Session with a poster presentation of her experience.
Obstetric fistula is a devastating condition resulting from complications during childbirth. The condition causes women to continuously leak urine and/or feces through hole between their vagina and inner organs. Women that develop obstetric fistula are typically poor, of a young age, have little access to healthcare, and are often living in developing countries. The stigma associated with this condition can be devastating for these women. Surgical repair is possible, but lack of local capacity to perform repairs and lack of counseling services for pre and post-repair create barriers for many fistula patients. The surgery is perceived as expensive and difficult by many local doctors, who, given the low socioeconomic status of most fistula patients, have little incentive to invest time performing repairs.
Alice Zheng with her winning poster
EngenderHealth/ACQUIRE Project supports fistula surgical repair and counseling training camps for local doctors, nurses and anesthetists. Alice’s main project involved creating a database for repaired patients that would generate quarterly reports with USAID indicators for evaluation purposes. Once she created the database, she trained staff members on how to use it. She was also involved in collecting service provider and client testimonials and analyzing data on repairs at one hospital. The report serves as a resource document for the hospital’s (Kitovu Mission Hospital) newly opened Fistula Ward.
While much of her time was spent working on her database project from the capital, Kampala, Alice had the opportunity to talk with some of the affected women when she was in the field helping implement the capacity training programs. She was moved by their experience and realized how although this was an issue of health on the surface, it is really an issue of human rights. She also learned a lot about the bureaucratic structure in international health and was able to build on her own talents during her time in Uganda.
Alice grinned when she said that the one class she was glad she took before her internship was Biostatistics. She said it would have been helpful if she had taken the Evaluation course too. The hardest part of her internship was learning how to use Microsoft Access and then teaching others how to use the database.
Alice says figuring out what population/health problem she wanted to work with for her internship wasn’t too difficult; she had narrowed her focus to a location in Africa and a focus in women’s health. Actually securing and internship and applying for funding, on the other hand, was a difficult and long process. “I was lucky because it all worked out in the end. It was a good experience and I’m very glad I went there,” she explained