Katelyn K: About my Internship at the Okanogan County Public Health Department

About my Internship at the Okanogan County Public Health Department

By Katelyn K.

My internship for the summer contains two parts. One is working for the Okanogan County Public Health Department, and the other is doing research under the Environmental Health Research Experience Program (EHREP) through the University of Washington. At the Okanogan Health Department, I shadow the environmental health specialists during their daily tasks. Many of these tasks include doing food inspections, pool inspections, septic system evaluations, handling environmental health complaints, and mapping/inspecting wells. For EHREP, I am helping the health department improve public service announcements during wildfire smoke events, as well as their N95 mask distribution system. I created a survey for the general public asking questions about wildfire smoke and I am currently handing out flyers to get people to participate in the study.

Katie collecting a soil sample from a septic system test hole.

Throughout my time here, I learned that two of the most important skills for working in this field are social skills and being able to communicate effectively. Proprietors are often unhappy when you tell them to close their restaurant down because it is a health hazard, and homeowners can get defensive when you come onto their property explaining they need to clean up their solid waste piles. Working for the health department, one must know (or learn quickly) how to appropriately act during these situations. You must ensure the public understands you are there as a helpful resource and not as a threat. Another necessary skill is to be able to work independently. On some days, there isn’t any fieldwork, which means you must find work around the office. There have been times when I have kept myself busy by making pamphlets about N95 masks since there is a lot of public demand for them. It is not always possible to wait for directions from your supervisors; you must be comfortable doing productive things on your own.

One of the biggest parts of my internship is collecting responses for my survey regarding N95 masks. To be successful, I am relying on everyone at the health department to support me and get the word out about the survey. They have been very helpful by stopping at the town halls, businesses, and gas stations to hand out flyers advertising my survey. In addition to the health department, I have received a lot of support from two professors in the Environmental Health department at the UW. They helped me write my survey questions, check up on me weekly, and answer any questions I may have regarding my research about N95 mask distribution here at the Okanogan Health Department.

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