The Distinguished Global Health Internships offered by DMU’s Department of Global Health are highly selective virtual research opportunities that enable students to explore global health research topics at various organizations. Students can work with researchers on projects such as conducting systematic reviews to create evidence-based educational materials for worldwide distribution. This year’s virtual internships are eight weeks long and will take place from May 22 to July 14, 2023.
Erin Smith, a dual-degree student in DMU’s doctor of osteopathic medicine and master of health care administration programs, will complete an internship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Climate and Health Program.
Smith received a bachelor of science degree in neurobiology, physiology and behavior, a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology, and a minor in global international studies from the University of California-Davis in 2020. Her interest in public health started her first year as an undergrad when she joined MEDLIFE, a nonprofit organization that partners with low-income communities in Latin America and Africa to improve their access to medicine, education and community development projects.
“Through MEDLIFE, I volunteered at a traveling clinic in Cusco, Peru,” Smith reflected. “Following my experience, I noticed many of the diseases the patients faced stem from the social determinants of health, some of which include socioeconomic class and living environment. I also studied in Ghana for a semester, focusing on the epidemiology of tropical disease courses and medical anthropology.”
Smith is interested in the CDC’s Climate and Health Program because she is passionate about researching the correlations between the environment and health outcomes of marginalized communities, especially those affecting youth.
“Working in two very different parts of Orange County, I witnessed how the zip code in which we live is more powerful than our genetic background,” she said. “Some things as simple as a safe park to exercise in, public buildings with air conditioning during the hot summers, or how wind patterns blow over farmlands can positively or negatively impact health outcomes.”
Smith hopes to use her experience with the CDC internship to incorporate research and advocacy work into her practice as a clinician and future health care administrator.
Michelle Vu, a first-year osteopathic medicine program, will complete an internship with the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which studies forces shaping the global health environment. Motivated by a lifelong passion for conservation, she joined a plant physiology/conservation ecology laboratory during her undergraduate studies at UCLA. From this experience, she learned about the impacts of global climate change on native plant communities, particularly focusing on how plants respond to extreme drought and climate change.
“It was from this research experience that my interest in better understanding the processes of global change blossomed,” Vu explained. “At the same time, I was taking courses in public health, volunteering with health outreach projects in my local community and developing an interest in health care. As these two interests evolved, I couldn’t help but wonder how global change impacts other communities, not just plant communities but also our human communities. I knew the internship with USGCRP was the perfect opportunity for me to bridge my interests in health care and conservation and to learn more about how climate change affects human health.”
Given her interest in climate change, Vu hopes her project will focus on the health consequences of natural disasters.
“I am incredibly thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to participate in the USGCRP internship that focuses on the interconnectedness of climate change and health,” she explained. “I am particularly looking forward to collaborating with experienced researchers and learning about the climate research being conducted within the U.S. and across the world. Through this internship, I aspire to not only deepen my understanding of the complex health impacts of climate change but also to learn about the current strategies and practices that are being implemented to safeguard the health and well-being of vulnerable populations and marginalized communities.”
Looking to the future, Vu hopes to continue exploring global health during her medical education and career.