Global health internship deepens student’s knowledge of climate change, human health

Lexis Wedell, D.O.’25, completed an eight-week virtual internship with United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) from May 23 to July 15, 2022. She was selected to participate in this internship as part of the DMU Department of Global Health’s Distinguished Global Health Internships program. These internships are selective research opportunities that enable students to collaborate with researchers to explore global health research topics at various national organizations.

Below is Lexis’ reflection on her USGCRP experiences.

My eight-week internship at U.S. Global Change Research Program was a valuable experience that expanded my knowledge of climate change, human health and the federal government. I also explored new professional interests.

Lexis Wedell, D.O.’25

I worked mainly on two projects. The first project was with the Climate Change, Food Systems and Nutrition Security Workstream. This relatively new workstream operates under the Climate Change and Human Health Group, which is part of USGCRP. My task for this project was to collect information on workstream members. This information included job titles, organization affiliations and professional interests to inform workstream assets and interests and identify gaps of knowledge or federal agency involvement. This project showed me how it can be difficult asking people to complete simple tasks when they are already experiencing email fatigue. I will remember that effective communication prioritizes important information and acknowledges the “busyness” of participants.

My second project fell under the Subcommittee on Climate, Emergencies and Disasters of the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children. In September 2021, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sent a Request for Information (RFI) on Climate Change and Human Health. I reviewed RFI responses by stakeholders relevant to children and pregnant and lactating women. I sorted out specific recommendations, research gaps, key ideas and mentions of exposures, health outcomes and cross-cutting topics. This information is accessible in both a spreadsheet and a summary document. I also sorted through RFI responses relevant to food and nutrition for potential use by the Climate Change, Food Systems and Nutrition Security workstream. I enjoyed this project because as I sorted through RFI responses, I read stakeholders’ responses of organizations I anticipate joining in my professional career and medical providers I respect. Seeing what these organizations and individuals believe to be most important regarding climate and health was a true privilege.

During my internship, I gave three presentations. The first was at the Climate Change, Food Systems and Nutrition Security workstream meeting. The second presentation was for the Climate Change and Human Health Group meeting. The last was for USGCRP staff and guests from the NIH Climate Change and Health Planning and Implementation Group. I also prepared a slide set presented on my behalf at the Subcommittee on Climate, Emergencies and Disasters meeting. Although it was intimidating presenting my work to climate experts when my experience was limited, everyone was very encouraging of my work. I am proud of the work I completed during my internship. My mentors were optimistic about the usefulness of my deliverables. 

This internship was my first experience working virtually. Aside from a few months in spring 2020, I had never spent this much time exclusively meeting online. A benefit of this setup was that I had the flexibility to travel between my hometown and Des Moines during the eight weeks. A challenge of virtual working was the extra discipline required and the disconnect I sometimes felt from my colleagues. This experience did help me to practice time management and maintain my attention span for work during the break before starting my second year.

The most important takeaway from this experience was learning how climate change influences human health. Before this experience, I had little knowledge of climate change and an even lesser idea of how it affects health. I feel much more confident on this subject now. I know I could communicate to my colleagues, classmates and patients why they should care about climate change. During this internship, I also had the opportunity to meet with three physicians in the Climate and Health Science Policy Fellowship at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. I would very much consider completing this fellowship following my residency training. Additionally, I have started a group at DMU to help my peers learn more about this topic and how they can prepare as future health providers for the influence of climate change on their patients. This group, part of a pre-existing national network of medical students, is called Medical Students for a Sustainable Future at Des Moines University.

I am grateful to have worked with and learned from climate experts at USGCRP, NIH, USDA, NOAA and many other federal agencies. Although this experience was short, I am amazed by the amount of knowledge I have acquired. One of the Climate and Health Science Policy fellows shared that I will be one of the most informed people regarding climate change at my university. I do not take this responsibility lightly. I will do my best to share this critical information with my peers, colleagues and patients.

Are you a DMU student interested in the internship at the USGCRP, the Pan American Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)? The application for the Distinguished Global Health internships for summer 2023 will open on Nov. 11, 2022. For more information and how to apply, please visit the Department of Global Health’s Pulse page. If you have any questions, please contact the department at

We also invite you to join us via Zoom for the Office of Research’s Friday Research Seminar on Nov. 11 at noon, when the 2022 global health interns will present the research from their internships. Register for the seminar here.

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