Tag Archives: NEPHIP

Ana S.: My Summer Project In Data Collection

My Summer Project In Data Collection

By Ana S.

During my time here in El Paso County, I had the opportunity to see and experience many different parts of public health. While I have been working on designated tasks related to rabies and vector borne disease prevention, I have also been able to shadow other environmental health specialists to get a better sense of what a typical day looks like for an employee in the Environmental Health Division. Being a fresh set of eyes during these shadowing experiences is what eventually led me to developing my second project for the summer.

El Paso County has over 2700 Retail Food Establishments (RFEs), each one with their own set of food safety challenges. For restaurants specializing in international cuisine, many of their challenges relate to the language and cultural barriers that operators experience when interacting with inspectors. Past inspection reports suggest that many of these restaurants have a much higher number of critical violations than other facilities. Many of the health specialists I spoke to explained that these violations were usually related to the resistant behavior of  restaurant operators, which has made it very difficult for specialists to collaborate and work toward developing safer facilities. While I had experienced this resistance first-hand, I also noticed another trend that I thought may explain the problem further. At many of these food facilities, operators and employees spoke little to no English. This barrier can pose quite a challenge for the health department, as they have no health specialists on staff who speak any language other than English or Spanish. Additionally, while Hispanic and English speaking facilities can receive educational materials in their native language, health specialists have no resources available for any other languages. This often leaves multicultural restaurants in the dark when it comes to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment. Noticing this trend made me wonder if the lack of compliance was caused, not by a lack of willingness to comply, but rather by a lack of understanding on how to comply.

That’s when I started developing my project, which is working to provide resources and information to employees in their native language in the hope of giving them a better understanding of how to run a safer restaurant. For my remaining time here, I’ve been working with the director of the food program, as well as a population health epidemiologist, to complete a number of tasks that will help put this plan into effect. First, I’ve been conducting a survey, which was recently sent to all 2700 RFEs in El Paso County, asking what languages are commonly spoken between employees and owners. Second, I’ve been collecting and developing a set of documents which can be given to all health inspectors to be used when working with non-English speaking employees. Finally, I’ve been developing a color-coded map, which indicates where restaurants are located and what languages are spoken at each restaurant, so inspectors can prepare to bring the correct materials prior to the inspection. All the while, I’ve been working with health specialists to educate them on how to be more culturally aware, in order to produce a more collaborative environment during inspections.

This project has required a lot of time, collaboration, and problem solving skills to produce effective results. It’s also been a project that’s required me to utilize my background in statistics and epidemiological practices. In the end, this project will hopefully be the first of many investigations into how we can develop better cross-cultural communication strategies as a governmental agency. I’m really glad that I could be a part of the beginning of this process!

Antonia R.: The Application Road to NEPHIP

The Application Road to NEPHIP

By Antonia R.

Over the summer, I am participating in the National Environmental Public Health Internship Program (NEPHIP). The NEPHIP gives 35 environmental Public Health students the opportunity to intern at a local, tribal, or state health department. The application process is overseen by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and they look at the written responses and at the students’ transcripts. I found out about this internship from the career adviser for Environmental Health at UW. I also applied to three other internships, but this was the internship that I was most interested in. 

I do not think that finding internships to apply for is hard because UW DEOHS maintains the internship page full of opportunities and sends out emails about new internships, so just keeping your eyes open helps. Many internships require a resume and a cover letter, or a written statement that answers a prompt, like the NEPHIP. For this program, I would advise starting the essays early so you have enough time to find feedback and edit your answers. The prompts require relatively short essays, so I think that the challenge lies in answering your prompt while also emphasizing your qualities concisely. I recommend having multiple people look over the essays, especially the Internship Manager because she knows what the evaluators are looking for in an application.

Many internship programs also require a recommendation letter, so you should ask your professor at least two weeks in advance. Furthermore, I recommend “going with the awkward” and meet with them in person to discuss your motivations and how you think the internship would help you in the future. In addition to discussing these subjects with them, I would also recommend giving them a copy of your resume, so they can have some reminders of how awesome you are and what to include in their letter. When I applied to NEPHIP, I was surprised that they had a form for the recommender, and yet no interview for the applicant. I think these were both pleasant surprises and reasons why you should apply for this internship program.

In the NEPHIP application, you can choose regions of the country where you would be willing to go for an internship. Finally, NEHA matches your application to the host health departments’ available projects and the region of your preference. I wrote my application essay about water quality and its impact on vulnerable communities, giving arsenic contamination as a personal example. I was matched to St. Mary’s County Health Department, Maryland, where I map arsenic concentration in the county’s drinking water and I modify outreach material to have a greater impact on the community. I do not know about other students’ applications, but I think that the matching process worked well, so I recommend applying for the NEPHIP if you are looking to work on an environmental health issue that you are passionate about and get paid for it.

Meet Our Interns: Antonia R.

Being an Intern at a Local Health Department

By Antonia R.

This summer, I am interning at St. Mary’s County Health Department (SMHD), in Maryland. I am one of the National Environmental Health Association interns and in my application, I talked about the importance of water quality in a community, focusing on arsenic in drinking water. Throughout my internship, I will work on what is known as the “Arsenic Project.” I will also have the opportunity to shadow various members of the Health Department.

For the first part of the project, I will work with ArcGIS, a mapping program, to map out arsenic levels throughout the county. St. Mary’s County is mostly rural and most of its inhabitants obtain their water from private wells. The SMHD must take water samples from any new or restored wells and then test for bacteria, nitrate, turbidity, and arsenic levels. Upon completion of the tests, the Environmental Health Department may grant the water a Certificate of Potability. In my project, I will use the data collected throughout the years via such testing, and then apply it on a map of the county. Then I will use a gradient to indicate the level of arsenic in response to the Maximum Contaminant Level discovered at a specific location.

Antonia at her desk.

The project has two main goals: to develop a model that shows arsenic levels against soil elevation and to identify hotspots of arsenic concentration to improve resource allocation from the Health Department. To achieve the goals, I will collaborate with St. Mary’s County IT support team to learn about ArcGIS in more detail and to develop the elevation map that I need, as well as meet with the Health Department’s epidemiologist to develop the algorithm that will model the high arsenic hotspots. This is a relatively new technology for SMHD, therefore I need the professional help of the IT department.

In addition to the main goals, we intend to educate home-owners about the effects of high arsenic concentration in drinking water and about arsenic removal methods. My mentor and I decided to modify existing documents for homeowners to make them more persuasive to the public. In this part of the project, I will apply my written communication skills in relation to the risk perception of the home owners and of the people living throughout the county.

This project is a great opportunity to apply a multi-faceted approach to solving the problem of arsenic in the county drinking water. We hope that we will be able to identify an efficient manner to allocate resources and to reach the community so that they will collaborate with the Health Department in addressing the treatment of their water.

Meet Our Interns: Ana S.

My Experience With Applying to a National Internship Program

By Ana S.

This summer, I’m moving to Colorado to work with El Paso County Public Health through a program called NEPHIP. When you’re on your hunt for a summer internship, I highly recommend that you apply for NEPHIP. This program is administered by the National Environmental Health Association, and funded by the CDC, so it’s specifically catered towards environmental health students. That being said, if you participate in this program you’ll most likely be moving to a completely new location for the summer. If that seems exciting to you, like it did to me, you should definitely continue reading.

To apply to this program, you’ll have to write and submit two short essays, a resume, and one letter of recommendation from an academic faculty member; that’s it! Notice how I didn’t include anything about an interview… that’s because there isn’t one. So if you absolutely dread the interview process, start jumping for joy!

Ana during her inspection of the Olympic Training Center.

Once you’ve applied, you’ll have to wait until spring to hear from the program. The wait was one of the most difficult parts for me. For about a month I was frantically refreshing my email whenever I got the chance. It wasn’t until the end of March that I finally heard from NEPHIP. A wave of relief and excitement washed over me as I read my acceptance offer. Then the nerves set in. Where would I be going? What would I be doing? I had so many questions left unanswered from the initial letter, and unfortunately, none of them could be answered until I accepted.

Seems a little scary, right? I had to accept my offer before I even knew where I would be going. I couldn’t just say, “Put me in warm, sunny, California please!” and expect to get my wish. I was, admittedly, pretty nervous. But I couldn’t let my nerves hold me back from such an amazing opportunity. So, after consulting with my most trusted advisor (thanks mom), I accepted. And then… I waited. 2 weeks later I found out I was going to Colorado Springs to work for El Paso County Public Health.

I’ve been here for a week now, where my primary focus is vector borne and zoonotic disease prevention. But as the summer progresses, I will also have the opportunity to work with staff from many departments in the agency. So far, I’ve had an amazing time getting to know my peers. It’s also been great to step out of my comfort zone and experience a new place! And, looking back, even though there were so many unknowns that came with my internship acceptance, I don’t regret accepting for a minute. Which brings me to my biggest piece of advice for other students: while some of the internship application process may feel overwhelming or scary (whether it’s with NEPHIP or not), don’t let that deter you from a summer full of adventure. After all, what is life without a little adventure, right?

Meet our Interns: Xamantha C.

Starting My Internship

By Xamantha C.

Xamantha in front of the LA County Environmental Health Headquarters

My First Day

On June 14, 2017, I took my first step into LA County Environmental Health Headquarters. The office, at first, was as confusing as the Health Sciences library—a maze formed by endless cubicles and different rooms instead of winding hallways and classrooms. Overwhelmed by the amount of programs kept behind the large amount of cubicles, I didn’t know where to start when I was asked what programs I would be interested in shadowing, but I was excited!

My excitement stemmed from the opportunity to use my Environmental Health education outside of the classroom and to learn from the workforce. I was overjoyed to know that I would have the opportunity to shadow people from different programs. The idea was exciting yet nerve-wracking. What if I don’t actually like the programs I’m interested in? But that’s the beauty of it I guess. This internship will allow me to discover what I like and what I don’t like about Environmental Health because even as an incoming senior, I only had an idea. Now I would have the opportunity to explore my career goals and interests in a hands-on environment.

Internships give us the opportunity for us to find our niche within Environmental Health. If unsure of what you actually want to do within this vast field, internships that will expose you to the multiple areas of Environmental Health can be your first step on your journey to what you want to do in the future.

An Informational Interview

Though I was introduced to many people on my first day, there was one that really stood out to me. His name is R. On my first day, I had to go to HR to pick up my badge. I felt very grateful that R volunteered his time to drive me to Human Resources. I’m glad he did! His passion and excitement resonated with me. One of the many interesting things we talked about were our individual journeys into the field of Environmental Health. Like many people I know, R got into Environmental Health by accident/by coincidence. He started out as Pre-Pharm but ended up not finishing that route because of unforeseen circumstances. After some time, he was introduced to a job as a part of the Environmental Health Strike team, one of the first and only Environmental Health teams in the nation tasked to respond to Environmental Health emergencies and disasters! He came into it not knowing much about the field but after his training and after a few months of working, he realized he loved it. He said that if he could go back and start off in this field, he would.

His story further solidified that my choice to stay with Environmental Health was a great one. When I was a sophomore, I was searching for a major that would lead me not just to jobs, but to opportunities where I can actually love what I do. If there are people who can come into this field without prior knowledge and end up loving what they do, then I am in the right place. Environmental Health is an important field, and we should all be proud that we are a part of it! It is our job as future professionals in Environmental Health to advocate for this field and show its significance. Even as students, we must increase the field’s visibility so that in the future, people will have more understanding of and access to Environmental Health professions.