While many internships were canceled or moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some industries, like public health, needed the help of interns more than ever.
Students in UNC Greensboro’s Master of Public Health in Community Health Education program (MPH) are required to complete a five to six-month-long internship that builds upon three core competencies: leadership principles, systems thinking, and coalition building.
Two MPH students began their internships in January when vaccination efforts were beginning to roll out. Their internship duties shifted to support vaccine clinics, address health inequities, and give back to the community.
Caroline Wells, a second-year graduate student, has always had an interest in both medicine and public health, with the ultimate goal of becoming a physician assistant. It was important to her to find an internship that could combine those two interests.
After working with Dr. Morrison on community outreach with Greensboro’s refugee and immigrant populations, she was connected to Mustard Seed Community Health, a charitable clinic in East Greensboro.
As a public health intern, Wells works with the health outreach team and community health workers along with other graduate-level public health and social work interns from UNCG and N.C. A&T to support the medical clinic and the community health center. Wells has worked with the team to provide transportation assistance and food delivery to underserved populations, and most prominently, she has helped facilitate the in-person and mobile vaccine clinics offered by the center to provide vaccinations to marginalized populations in the Greensboro area.
Not only is this work directly in line with her career goals, but it is also rewarding.
“I’m witnessing how important human capital is, especially in a pandemic when community and social interaction is so limited. It’s amazing to see how willing people are to help others within the community, especially in a time like this.”
Wells will continue to help with Mustard Seed’s vaccination efforts after her internship is over before heading to school to become a physician assistant at Emory University in the fall.
“I want to continue volunteering here because I love working with the community health workers. People trust the clinic, and community members recognize and trust the staff. It’s really fulfilling to be in the vaccination clinic interacting with these community members and seeing the impact.”
This internship has helped Wells define her career path as well. After she graduates from PA school, Wells hopes to come back to Greensboro and continue to address health inequities in the community by serving the same populations she is serving now in her internship.
“I now know the populations in Greensboro that need assistance, and after working with them, I feel such a connection to them, so this internship didn’t change what I wanted to do, but where I wanted to do it.”
Aaron Sturdivant, a second-year graduate student, was originally going to intern with Surry County Health and Nutrition Center and work on tobacco prevention in schools, but the pandemic and vaccination rollout shifted his job duties as well.
Now, he spearheads the Surry County’s vaccine distribution efforts by helping to schedule appointments and facilitate in-person and drive-thru clinics for marginalized groups of people that wouldn’t be able to get the vaccine otherwise.
With Sturdivant’s help, over 1,000 vaccines are administered weekly, and his role has evolved from public health intern to COVID-19 health educator.
“The most rewarding aspect of this experience has been being able to talk to so many community members that I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk to if it weren’t for the pandemic and my work with Surry County. The populations I work with don’t always have access to the vaccine, so to be able to provide that to them and see them light up in the clinic is really fulfilling.”
After Sturdivant graduates in May, he will continue to work for Surry County Health and Nutrition Center and hopes to explore a career path in tobacco prevention in the future.
“I think this internship has really prepared me for my future career in public health. Because I interned at a vaccine clinic during the pandemic, which is a very fast-paced and demanding work environment, I feel like I can take on any challenge in the future.”
Story by Alexandra McQueen, University Communications