Environmental Health Internship Essentials
Choo, Alex, Gerke, Jacob, Sellers, Victoria, Syed, Maha, Journal of Environmental Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Summer Program in Environmental Health (SUPEH) provides students in academic programs accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) an opportunity to experience environmental health practice at the local, state, and federal levels. The internship
exposes students to the aspects of the environmental health profession, from hands-on activities in the field to environmental health management in the office. Typically, the internship is the student's first glimpse into the real-world application of environmental health science.
As interns, we recognized early on that environmental health practitioners must possess a wide range of competencies to be effective at promoting and improving environmental health. Based on observations during our internship, we recognized a need to continually develop not only technical skills and abilities but also competencies as well-rounded professionals. Those competencies fall under the three categories identified by the Environmental Health Core Competency Project: assessment, management, and communication (American Public Health Association and National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001). This column gives our unique perspectives as four environmental health interns who experienced, for the first time, general environmental health practice through the eyes of practitioners.
Academic environmental health curriculums provide instruction in the broad technical areas of the field, such as food protection and water quality. Understanding the various areas of the science helped us to think critically and analyze complex situations, as we realized practitioners do not always encounter "textbook" cases. We found this to be especially true when we conducted facility inspections during which interrelated environmental factors were found. All of the broad topics we learned from our course work could be applied in one facility on an inspection. When attempting to solve health problems, environmental health professionals must take a systems-based approach, consider the environment as a whole, and understand the relationship and connections between contributing factors.
Practically every field activity was an exercise in assessment and a reminder about the complexity of environmental health problems. During inspections, we used the combination of visual observations and sampling to inform stakeholders about potential health risks. Completing our projects required analysis of data collected from investigations, inspections, and interviews with subject-matter experts to make a correct assessment. The experience taught us that environmental health professionals generate a significant amount of data and consideration must be given to how the data can be used to ensure that accurate information is conveyed to the public.
Early in the internship, we developed an appreciation for the fact that environmental health professionals not only work in the field but also have responsibilities in the office. We received an introduction to the work that happens somewhat "behind the scenes." While we were not involved with budgeting and supervising, we did have an opportunity to learn about aspects of other management activities. We realized the importance of accurate reporting, recording, and documenting work. Project assignments required us to solve problems, meet deadlines, and collaborate with coworkers. The assignments also provided insight into other important aspects such as managing relationships with coworkers and being organized and proactive.
Whether written or spoken, in the field or office, communication was a common theme with every internship activity. During field experiences, we learned that clearly explaining results and findings to ensure risks are understood is critical. …