Learning Local Public Health
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health Local Internship program is accepting applications through March 27, 2022 for its paid summer opportunity that places students in health departments statewide where they augment the workforce and sometimes later join it.
BUSPH student Laura Nash spent last summer interning in the Bedford Health and Human Services Department, cementing her desire to seek government-based public health work after graduation this spring.
Nash participated in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Local Health Internship program, which began in 2004 and offers students a paid opportunity to explore local public health. Applications are open through March 27 for Summer 2022 interns.
“It’s daunting to transfer from an educational to a professional setting,” Nash said, describing how supportive the Bedford and MDPH internship program staff were in finding work that both interested Nash, and benefitted the health departments.
She created, administered and analyzed results from a resident mental health survey. Nash learned to conduct public health inspections, became a COVID-19 contact tracer, and connected residents to much needed resources. The highlight, she said, was what she learned and was able to apply from the mental health survey.
“In the school setting, you have strict guidelines in hypothetical situations, but I actually got to do it in real time. I had to actually think about what is valuable information,” Nash said, adding that the survey’s qualitative responses helped her provide resources to residents when she was conducting contact tracing calls. She was better able to connect people with food, mental health services and other desperately needed resources.
And sometimes, the internships can lead to regular paid work. Nash continues to work in Bedford part-time, and former intern Alyssa Loskill (SPH ’19), is now an MDPH epidemiologist who works on zoonotic diseases, the pandemic response team, and helps train colleagues on new technologies to aid their work.
Loskill interned in the department’s zoonotic division, evaluating rabies surveillance systems.
“I used a lot of my data analysis skills, and using that I was able to distill lessons learned from my outcomes, and provide recommendations on how to change the system, which were actually implemented,” Loskill said, adding that she had a work product to share when job searching, which eventually led to her current position.
Kayleigh Sandhu (SPH ’17) is an MDPH epidemiologist and internship program coordinator in the division of epidemiology. She said this summer they have approximately 15 placements in local health departments throughout the state where students will have the opportunity to work both in person and remotely.
“I think it’s pretty unique to actually have a perspective of on the ground needs for a board of health. Every town has a different project every year, and it is different towns that get involved,” Sandhu said. “It’s a very fluid experience that is really dependent on the needs of locals at that given time.”
Most opportunities are 15 to 20 hours weekly, and pay $15/hour for up to 20 hours of work. This year’s project possibilities include conducting a data analysis of food code violations or nuisance complaints, creating a list of emerging public health topics for social media posts, supporting towns after the closing of their local hospital, environmental health risk communication, health education, and more.
Alum Heidi Porter (SPH ’00) is the Bedford Health and Human Services director, and is planning to host another student this summer.
“Interacting with summer interns affords us the opportunity to advance programs and projects that we’ve identified during the year that would benefit our community but staff haven’t had the time or bandwidth to execute,” Porter wrote in an email. “Additionally, interns we’ve had in Bedford have shared their recent educational experience on current or emerging public health concerns that have informed programming, educational outreach and data gathering exercises.”
“We’re ecstatic when our former interns contact us for references for positions in local public health and we’re grateful to be supporting our next generation workforce,” Porter wrote.