Public health students explore careers and build skills during their summer break
All students within the Master of Public Health (MPH) program have internship requirements to earn their degrees. While summer experiential learning opportunities aren’t for academic credit, they are designed to not only align with each student’s own interests but also allow them to work directly with employers to build valuable skills in real-world settings.
Public health students also benefit from the collaborative environment of this multidisciplinary program, which is a joint effort of Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the College of Community and Public Affairs.
Three students spent the summer of 2022 working in various sectors within the public health field to expand their professional marketability through hands-on experiences. Here’s what they learned.
Valerie Palmeri: Broome County Health Department
There are many potential career paths in the field of public health, but Valerie Palmeri, who grew up in Endwell, N.Y., didn’t expect to find hers so close to home.
A summer experiential learning opportunity at the Broome County Health Department put 22-year-old Palmeri at the heart of efforts to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to underserved rural areas and share useful information with vaccine-hesitant residents. Her position at the health department was set up through her AmeriCorps placement with the Rural Health Network.
Palmeri’s internship brought her into senior centers and to community events and other venues around Broome County, N.Y. It’s an experience she says helped refine a passion for promoting health in her own community by exploring the wide-ranging services a county’s health department provides.
“Public health is really about that outreach, sharing information with people about different programs,” Palmeri says. “We don’t force anyone to get the vaccine, we just recommend it. We also do a lot of home vaccine visits to help people who can’t get out of their home, and make sure we can answer their questions.”
Palmeri says experience in social aspects of the public health field is valuable in helping chart a course for a possible career.
Elisabeth Van Tassell: Willis Towers Watson
How do different companies provide health insurance coverage? How do insurance plans differ among employees? And how do providers’ insurance plans vary?
These are questions Elisabeth Van Tassell answered during her internship as a business support specialist in the health and benefits sector of the insurance advisor Willis Towers Watson branch in Arlington, Va.
“It’s about ensuring people have access to the healthcare they need, and being part of how that works for different companies has been fascinating,” says Van Tassell, a 22-year-old from Westchester, N.Y. Much of her internship involved tapping into skills from her statistics background when it came to reviewing insurance plans.
“I’ve grown to understand the financial aspect behind it,” she says, “because a company is going to give their employees the best insurance possible, but they’re also going to have to balance costs in a realistic way.”
Van Tassell says her work at Willis Towers Watson also expanded on what she learned from classwork in health policy, insurance and management, allowing her to play a key role on projects that affected working people directly.
“This experience forced me to become more resourceful and learn new things,” Van Tassell says, “which is great because they want you to be able to pursue different options in a company like this.”
Megan Sticco: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals
After gaining experience as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and more than a year working at the University’s COVID-19 testing center, Megan Sticco was eager to widen her skills beyond the frontlines of healthcare.
She found that opportunity during her summer experiential learning at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown, N.Y., assisting with Phase IV clinical trial management for drugs already approved by the FDA but still under testing.
For Sticco, it was a chance to deepen her understanding of an area in health that doesn’t often get discussed in detail due to the confidential nature of the work. “There are so many interesting sections to clinical trial management,” she says, and being integrated into this process during her internship helped expand on what she’s been learning in her classes.
It also served as a valuable professional networking opportunity, as well as a chance to grow marketable skills through tasks such as reviewing data and survey information.
“Part of what I like so much about public health is that you can still be out there helping people, and working at Regeneron has allowed me to do a little bit of everything,” says Sticco, who is earning a certificate in disaster management along with her MPH degree. “Not only am I able to see what other people are doing with their public health degree, but being involved with big projects for a company like this, seeing them develop, has been a great way for me to learn how much work goes into the private sector of healthcare.”