Center for Community Engagement

Panel on public health internships offers broad lessons for internship seekers

On the evening of Thursday, February 25, I joined over thirty students who ventured through the pouring rain to attend the panel, Internship Opportunities in Public Health. While the event – which was co-hosted by the Amherst College Public Health Collaborative (ACPHC) and the Career Center, may not have the most exciting name – hearing about the internship experiences of my fellow students, and learning how I could find my own equally great experiences in the field of public health, was genuinely fun.

The panelists for the evening were Maikha Jean-Baptiste ’10, Victor Zhu ’11, Sarah Conway ’10, Hoiwan Cheung ’10, Lili Ferguson ‘11E, coordinator of the ACPHC, and Dean Carolyn Bassett, associate director of the Career Center and health professions advisor. The panelists’ experiences ranged from doing epidemiological research for the World Health Organization to working in the Chicago community health clinics of the Erie Family Health Center; from writing newsletters and lobbying congress for the American Cancer Society to assisting in major clinical trials at the Arizona Heart Hospital. Noting the diversity of experiences represented by the panel, Dean Bassett emphasized one of the main points of the night: “Every student doing an internship has a different story to tell,” and there are “few disciplines that do not have something to contribute to public health.”

Whether you are a statistician who wants to map and prevent the spread of deadly diseases, an economist who wants to design an affordable healthcare program, or an aspiring heart surgeon looking for practical training, everyone has to find their amazing internship somewhere, and this was the focus of the discussion. Amherst College has a myriad of resources for the determined student. If one is willing to actively search, great opportunities are plentiful. Dean Bassett laid out some of the best places to find these opportunities, including: the Amherst College alumni networks, the Amherst Select Internship Program (ASIP), the Center for Community Engagement’s Civic Engagement Scholars program (CES) and Pioneer Valley Program (PVP), Idealist.org, and the Career Center’s Experience and Liberal Arts Career Network (LACN) databases.

After Dean Bassett explained where to look for great opportunities, it was the panelists’ turn to offer insight into how to obtain them. First, everyone agreed: even if you think it’s too late, don’t assume – the longer you wait, the more proactive you have to be, but there are always opportunities. Maikha wished she had started looking for an internship earlier, but she was thrilled with the one she got with the American Cancer Society. Once you have decided to find an internship, look for organizations in your field of interest and research them extensively; look into their background and location, whether or not you’re eligible to intern with them, and what the internship will entail in both cost and duties. Hoiwan expressed the idea that the key to getting the best internship was to “be persistent.” Seek out department and organization heads and email them directly. “If you don’t get a response the first time, email them again.” Dean Basset added that it was a good idea to include Amherst College in the subject line and to tie your interest in their organization to your long-term educational trajectory and career goals.

There are amazing experiences awaiting those who are willing to go out and find them – in the field of public health or any other endeavor for the common good. An internship in the field of public health can be a life-changing experience – a distinct turning point – or it can be the next methodical step toward a chosen goal. Regardless, though, of the precise course one takes, and where exactly one ends up, everyone has to start somewhere. Whether you begin on your path by talking to Amherst College alumni or professors, using the Career Center’s databases and advisors, or the CCE’s programs and funding, your experience will undoubtedly change you – by helping you achieve what you have always desired, or by sending you in an entirely new direction.

Winslow Dahlberg-Wright '11 is a transfer from Holyoke Community College. He is passionate about social justice and plans to attend law school in order to study human rights and poverty law.