Global health experience transports M.P.H. student out of her comfort zone

Angela Russo’s work as a medical technologist in a hospital laboratory of NCH Healthcare System in Naples, FL, sparked her interest in epidemiology and infection control. That motivated her to broaden her career opportunities by enrolling in Des Moines University’s online master of public health (M.P.H.) degree program.

Given her interests and love of international travel, the University’s global health program offered an ideal option for her applied practice experience, the 180-hour internship in a public health setting required for the M.P.H. degree: a month-long stay on the Eastern Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia. She’d wanted to participate in a health-related service trip in the past but hadn’t had the chance.

“When I saw the option for a global health trip through DMU, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity,” she says.

In the M.P.H. program, Angela is pursuing the health education and promotion concentration, one of the program’s three tracks. This concentration prepares students to work, locally or globally, to protect and promote the health of individuals, families, communities and countries.

“I chose this concentration because of the education it will give me in implementing public health programs and working with communities,” she says. “I also like that the knowledge learned from this concentration can be used in the local, national or global setting.”

On St. Lucia, Angela worked with an infection control nurse, Delia Peters, at St. Jude Hospital in Vieux-Fort. The experience had several dimensions: First, the hospital was heavily damaged by fire in 2009, and it has since operated in an old sports stadium.

Angela Russo and Nurse Delia Peters

“It was incredible to see how the dedicated staff has continued to excel at their jobs using limited resources, as well as limited staffing, to care for the local patient population in Vieux-Fort,” she says.

Angela also got to attend meetings at the Ministry of Health in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia. “I felt honored to have the chance to sit in on these national meetings with public health professionals, in which issues such as vector-borne diseases, influenza statistics and environmental struggles of the island were discussed,” she says.

Her internship also allowed her to experience the culture of the island nation. “During the first week of the internship, Delia asked me to stay with her and her family for the weekend. I was feeling a bit lonely and anxious the first week I was there,” Angela says. “The weekend at Delia’s brought comfort and friendship, which helped those feelings of loneliness to subside. They introduced me to authentic food dishes and some cultural traditions and beliefs of her family.”

Angela says she will be “forever grateful” for her internship experience. “It took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to experience a different way of life,” she says. “I was able to witness health care professionals coping with a makeshift hospital and limited resources. I also sat in on national discussions concerning some of the main public health issues of the island. I am beyond appreciative for the professional, cultural and personal growth this experience gave me.”

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