About My Internship with Public Health Seattle King County
By Alexa Y.
This summer I am working as an intern for Public Health Seattle King County in the Environmental Health division. My main task includes mosquito surveillance for West Nile Virus, which entails trapping mosquitos, sorting them by the vectors that carry the disease and then shipping them to the Washington State Department Of Health in Tumwater to be PCR tested. Other tasks include helping the Hazardous Waste Management team with research on a variety of community focused projects and outreach events to best maximize efficiency and target different needs of varying communities in King County. This internship allowed me to meet and learn from so many different people working in the public health world as well as discover where my interests lie and what I am passionate about. I have been able to meet people doing work in equity and social justice and see real applications and projects instead of just hearing about it in class. This gave me perspective on how much work this work is, the impact it has and the pushback it can receive. This internship encouraged and nudged me to expand outside my comfort zone in terms of networking and asking questions, but I have become a more curious person and student because of it.
Alexa compiling Culex pipiens mosquitos, a vector of West Nile Virus, into a vile containing RNA protecting solution in the Public Health Labs in Shoreline.
Through the search for this internship I’ve learned that starting earlier is better. This was the last internship I applied to, one that opened late, and I was lucky to receive the position. It was a great introduction to what searching for a real job might look like and how to most effectively portray the skills I have. If I were to redo the search, I would try to apply to a few more than I did, and try to use resources earlier such as the Environmental Health student portal.
My advice for students looking for internships is to start earlier than you think you need to, but don’t panic if you do not obtain a position right away!
An Informational Interview with a Health and Environmental Investigator
While interning at Public Health – Seattle & King County, I was fortunate enough to shadow professionals in Environmental Health Services. One of these individuals was Kyla, a Health and Environmental Investigator who mainly focused on complaints regarding on-site sewage systems in King County.
Kyla explained that her process for inspecting a septic tank begins with someone complaining of an odor, sewage above a drain field, or a report from the tank’s maintainer that the system is not working properly. She also communicates with the complainant about the issue. For our first inspection, the complainant was able to take pictures of their neighbor’s property to help pinpoint where the odor and waste appeared to be coming from when she arrived. In addition to bringing the complaint notes and maintainer records, before heading out to the site Kyla also prepares a diagram that includes the septic tank, the property, and structures on the property. Upon arrival, she will try to find the homeowner or a tenant to get permission to enter their property and inspect the tank and drain field. If no one is home, viewing the tank and field can also be done from nearby public land, or by asking the neighboring complainant for permission to view the septic system from their property. During the inspection, she documents odors, the status of the tank, and any effluent seen by taking notes and pictures. If there is possible effluent on the drainage field, green fluorescent dye can be flushed down the toilet and can be seen in the drainage field a few days later to know for sure.
Likes and Dislikes
The most rewarding part of Kyla’s job is being able to assist homeowners and residents with solving their septic tank issues, which can become unpleasant for the residents and people nearby if left untreated. If there is effluent on the drainage field, an unappealing aspect can be the smell and having to walk in the sewage if the case is severe enough. Since the majority of inspections take place on rural land, a downside is that entering large and isolated properties can pose a risk to safety, so site visits are done in pairs. However, visiting rural land for site inspections gives Kyla the opportunity to explore King County and visit forests and farmland, which is a unique aspect of her job.
Septic tank records (otherwise known as “as builts”) are filed on paper or film. While the notes that Kyla makes at the inspection sites get transferred into electronic form, she explained that Public Health plans to store the diagrams electronically in the future as well.
How I Got my Summer Internship
By Veda T.
I began my internship search during fall quarter of the ENV H 480 internship class. While a lot of the internships I found were through searching Google or Indeed, what helped the most was the Undergraduate Internships page on the DEOHS portal website. Accessing this page allowed me to become familiar with the different types of internships in environmental health, and prioritize which ones I wanted to apply to based on their location and deadline. When it came time to apply and fill out the applications, I was surprised by how tedious and repetitive some aspects were. I recommend starting this process as early as possible, and to double check that your answers are appropriately geared for the company or organization you are applying to.
After applying to several internships, the one that I interviewed for first and eventually got was with the Environmental Health Research Experience Program (EHREP). To help prepare for the interview, I spoke with Hayley, the Internship Manager, about what to expect during the interview and to learn a little more about the internship. An integral aspect to getting the internship was expressing my passion for photography when asked if I considered myself creative, and providing some video examples I had made for school projects when I heard that they were looking for someone to produce video content on wildfire smoke.
Screenshot of the smoke video Veda made for PHSKC
When I got my internship, I was placed with Public Health – Seattle & King County, where I produced smoke and heat safety videos in the Preparedness Section. In addition, I was able to shadow environmental health professionals once a week with Environmental Health Services and I also made smoke safety videos for the Washington State Department of Health as well.