Erin Smith, D.O.'26, M.H.A.'27
Erin Smith, D.O.'26, M.H.A.'27

DMU Student Pursues Passions During CDC Internship

Applications Open Nov. 17 for 2024 Global Health Internships

Erin Smith, a student in Des Moines University’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Master of Health Care Administration programs, completed an eight-week virtual internship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during Summer 2023.  She was selected to participate in this internship as part of the Distinguished Global Health Internships program of Des Moines University’s Department of Global Health. These selective internships enable students to collaborate with researchers to explore global health research topics at national organizations.

The application for the university’s Summer 2024 global health internships at the CDC and the U.S. Global Change Research Program will open to DMU students Nov. 17, 2023. 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

Individuals are invited to attend, via Zoom, the DMU Office of Research’s Friday Research Seminar on Nov. 17 at noon, when the 2023 global health interns will present research they produced during their internships.  For more information, contact

Here are Erin’s reflections on the experience.

My internship was with the CDC’s Climate and Health Division, which monitors rising heat temperatures and their effect on health, agriculture and city planning. Though my internship was entirely virtual, I felt connected with my team. I attended division-wide weekly meetings and the science team’s bi-weekly meetings. These meetings were helpful as I gained insight into the main moving parts of the CDC.

During my internship, the Canadian wildfires were rampant. The division made a significant shift in focus from gathering heat-related illness data to coordinating with media and state health departments on measures individuals can take to protect themselves from the smoke. In addition to working with my team, I networked with various physicians who work at the CDC. Engaging with these members showed me how to shape and transform my medical career as my interests change. More importantly, it demonstrated the need for physician advocates and scientists in policy recommendations and public health projects.

While at the CDC, I primarily researched the effects of climate on the growth patterns of coccidioidomycosis, an infection caused by the fungus coccidioides, along the West Coast. I wrote a journal article on the underreporting coccidioidomycosis, or Valley Fever, in agricultural workers, especially among migrant farmers. Growing up in California, I became accustomed to driving up and down the I-5, passing through some of the nation’s largest farms. I became used to seeing signs about conserving water usage and changes in produce to respond to the previous rainy season. At the time, it was simply an issue regarding water. But my research revealed it is more than that. The produce is all planted at particular depths on land that is cycled through years of productivity and dormancy, ultimately predisposing agricultural workers to Valley Fever. When COVID-19 entered the differential diagnosis, it became much more indistinguishable for patients to tell if they had COVID-19 or something else, leading to an increase in underreporting.

Furthermore, as a dual-degree D.O./M.H.A. student, I found this project particularly compelling because it combined my interest in health care access and epidemiology with my clinical knowledge. Additionally, I am passionate about advocacy work for marginalized communities, especially those who may not understand the intricacies of the United States health care system.

Though my time with the CDC was short, it challenged me to thoroughly integrate and work with a new team to accomplish a project. My favorite perk of interning with the CDC was attending “CDC University” seminars. The opportunity to participate in guest lectures ranging from making public health language more accessible to applying clinical disease management strategies was unique. It expanded my knowledge on topics I would not have thought about.

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