An Informational Interview with an Environmental Health Officer (from University of Washington Blog) By Ali E. During these past few weeks at my internship, I’ve met a handful of different environmental health officers (EHOs) who all have varying interests, backgrounds, and stories. I’ve learned the different ways they ended up within the Office of Environmental Health in the Indian Health Service, and where they see themselves going in the future. Of all these people, there was one in particular who had a really interesting career path and who participated in an informational interview with me. Learning how to conduct a pool survey I met Kate a few weeks into my internship because she’s the EHO within our district with the most experience with pools. Because my project for the summer dealt with pools, I was able to go visit her field office for a few days. I learned the ins and outs of pool surveys, including debriefing with the pool operators, checking safety equipment, testing pool chemical levels, checking equipment maintenance, checking for proper documentation and chemical use, and above all how to give recommendations on how to improve the facility. Aside from learning how to properly and thoroughly conduct a pool survey, I learned a lot about Kate’s history that led her to where she is today. Kate got her bachelor’s degree in exercise sport science because she was an athlete and loved sports and considered becoming an OT. She signed up for a Master of Public Administration program, but after a year changed to environmental health. Like me, she kind of stumbled unknowingly into environmental health because she liked the electives it offered. The interesting part of Kate’s educational background is that she did an online master’s program that she spread out over the course of six years, which allowed her to travel around the world and work in various jobs while completing her degree. Prior to this summer, I hadn’t met a lot of people who had done their master’s degrees online, but I learned about the many advantages, as well as disadvantages, to going the online route. Kate is currently looking at getting a graduate certificate in epidemiology because her long-term goal is to get her doctorate and to work abroad, potentially with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doing environmental health work. I didn’t know that certificates existed before meeting Kate, and she showed me that there are a multitude of ways to go about education at the graduate level, and that there is plenty of time to do so. I personally want to take some time off before pursuing a master’s to work in different settings to find my niche. Kate showed me that it isn’t necessary to rush through your education just to get a degree, but that it’s more valuable to take time to find what you’re really passionate about.
Internships are a part of the ordinary college experience. When Brendan Hanson received a phone call from a uniformed service officer offering a U.S. Public Health Service internship, he had no idea he would get the extraordinary experience of becoming a commissioned officer, monitoring an entire city for safety standards, and investigating a viral disease. Hanson, a junior in the Environmental, Safety & Occupational Health Management (ESOH) Program at the University of Findlay, learned about the Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (JRCOSTEP) through associate professor of the ESOH program, Tim Murphy, Ph.D. “Dr. Murphy likes to send out emails about internship opportunities, and this JRCOSTEP opportunity for the U.S. Public Health Service came up,” said Hanson. Students participating in JRCOSTEP are trained to work in the same federal agencies and programs as active duty commissioned corps officers. Assignments can vary from 31 to 120 days. Applicants are from a variety of programs, including environmental health, pharmacy, engineering and nursing. To be considered for this type of internship, the applicate must be enrolled in an accredited program. The University of Findlay is the only program in the United States that has accreditation by the Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) and the American Board of Engineering Technology Applied Science Commission (ABET). “I passed the initial screening and ended up getting a lot of applications along with a lot of forms. It’s a federal government job, so there’s going to be a lot of paperwork,” said Hanson. When the paperwork was submitted Hanson’s name went into a candidate pool to be selected from a number of different federal agencies offering a JRCOSTEP. Hanson was selected by the Indian Health Service to serve as a commissioned officer for the Gallup Indian Medical Center (GIMC) which is a 99-bed hospital in Gallup, New Mexico, on the border of the Navajo Nation. It was a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ environmental safety internship. Hanson started his first month by training and hosting rabies clinics for the chapter houses on the reservation, helping stem a disease endemic to the area. The second month was comprised of a variety of health and safety inspections such as retail inspections involving checking for loose or faulty wiring, water inspections to make sure the water reached hot temperatures in order to kill bacteria when washing or cleaning and hospital inspections for proper ventilation and power systems. While most ESOH activities involve a certain amount of risk, Hanson faced a serious disease in the last month of his internship. Hantavirus is a disease that particularly effects the southwest region of the United States. It presents itself with cold and flu-like symptoms making it difficult to diagnose, resulting in a 36 percent fatality rate. The virus stores itself in Deer Mice feces, making it harmless to humans unless aerosolized but deadly once it goes airborne through methods of sweeping or cleaning. When a group of children living in the same home all presented signs of the illness simultaneously, a team including Hanson went into the home to confirm that Hantavirus was the cause. Geared up in a full-length white body suit, goggles and facemasks, the crew went in, searched for indicative signs and confirmed that it was indeed the deadly virus. From there, they were able to assist the family in cleaning the causes of the disease, making recommendations of using wet methods to prevent the virus from aerating and using bleaching solutions to fully eradicate it. Though he participated in a multitude of experiences, Hanson’s favorite part of the internship didn’t involve taking samples, giving shots, or investigating diseases. Updating and modernizing public presentations on food handling, the plague and Hantavirus was where he felt like he made an abiding difference. After giving a presentation to 120 faculty members of a local school, a number of teachers came up to him requesting the slideshow to give to their students. “It felt really good knowing I made a big difference on the reservation by educating people because in the end, the biggest thing you could do to improve public health is to improve the education of the populace that you’re trying to serve,” Hanson said. Hanson is currently back at Findlay completing his junior year coursework. He is planning to continue on the ESOH path and will apply for another JRCOSTEP for the 2018 summer.
Astha Adhikari is from Kathmandu, Nepal. She is completing an Environmental, Safety & Health Management Masters Degree at the University of Findlay in Ohio. This summer Astha interned with the Tanana Chiefs Conference Office of Environmental Health through the NEHA National Environmental Public Health Internship Program. Coming from a small developing country and getting an opportunity to fulfill those imaginings you have is a dream come true. The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) internship has just been like that. Three months of beautiful journey from the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Ohio) to the Home of the Nanooks (Fairbanks, Alaska) has been absolutely mesmerizing and enthralling at the same time. This wonderful experience has molded me into a better individual than I was yesterday. Despite lots of ups and a few down moments I can sum up my internship journey as the fruitful phase of my life. This transformation has filled my life with opportunities and a handful of experiences. From the very first day here at Tanana Chiefs Conference- Office of Environmental Health (TCC-OEH) to the final day of my internship I’ve collected life-long memories and invaluable lessons that I have learnt from all the different personalities throughout my internship. Every day has been a new chapter in my life with new hopes, knowledge and exposure to different places and people that would have not been possible on my own. When you come from a different country you have to be ready to tackle some serious workplace variances and the difficulties related to it. Things were not that easy for me, but not impossible either. Of course it was tough at times but I believe we learn from our good and bad days. Our failures will give us ways to push us towards success. We will only appreciate our hard work and efforts when we own it by ourselves. That is why things that come easy also go easy.
Ten weeks is such a long time I used to think before joining TCC, but again I wonder where those ten weeks have gone! I still have so many things to learn and explore, and I adore the beauty of this place. I guess the human heart is never satisfied. There will always be the thirst of achieving new things and that thirst you have will always make you enthusiastic towards your goal and purpose of life. TCC-OEH has given me that opportunity to explore, learn and grow from a little bud to a blooming flower. Flying every week to one of the interior villages of Alaska to work with the Alaska Native tribes and observing the efforts TCC has been putting in to promote the lives of these tribes was very pleasing to the eyes and satisfying to the heart. I was amazed to see the work that TCC-OEH has been doing to help these tribes get safe drinking water, quick access to healthcare services, emergency response and other public health services despite of the fact that most of the villages have no road services. The Tribes themselves work very hard to uplift their people’s lives, which filled my heart with pure joy.
Interns also get to co-pilot!My first work duty was preparing annual drinking water quality reports for village public water systems. During my internship I learned how to be a lay vaccinator and provided rabies vaccinations to hundreds of dogs. In every trip I traveled with one of the Environmental Health Specialists; they took me to the health clinics for environmental health and safety surveys where I learned how to inspect and address the issues. I also visited water treatment plants and learned about sanitary surveys and the processing of raw water into potable water. During my village trip to Allakaket and Alatna I got the opportunity to assist with conducting a brownfield inventory and inspection of properties with our Brownfield Technician. As a part of a brownfield property inspection, the Allakaket Tribal Council gave us a boat ride down the Koyukuk River to visit a property where buildings and other debris had washed to during the historical 1994 flood. Assisting TCC’s Communication department with relevant messaging during the wildfire season was another intriguing assignment. I learned how vulnerable the Alaskan wilderness is during the dry season and along with tribes, I too became more aware about precautions to be taken during the wildfire season. An independent project assigned to me added more valuable insights to my internship. It allowed me to dive deep into the findings from the Village Health Clinic survey reports from the last five years and to develop potential solutions to improve the most repeated issues.
Dog-wrangler AKA Lay VaccinatorWorking in an organization surrounded by experts from different fields always gave me that positivity to move forward. I felt that I was a little kid just starting to walk on my feet with wings developing on my own and dreams bigger than my fears. TCC-OEH will always be that place where I learned, failed and got back to reach new heights every day and I can never thank them enough for the things I have gained here. To the people like me who come from a small country and get very little opportunity to live the dreams we have is a beautiful dream in itself. I remember when everyone in the office was astonished and eager at the same time to see where I am from and how I landed into TCC. My skin color would always raise so many questions to so many different people, sometimes in a positive way and often times giving me chills. But I always chose a positive way to take the people’s opinion which is why I only have the best memories from Alaska. For me Alaska has surprised in so many different ways, be it watching people collecting fish in summer for all the year round; or learning about them hunting for moose and other creatures in that wild forest which is home to different kinds of bears; camping and hiking at the top of those beautiful hills; the different eye-colored huskies getting ready for snow mushing in winter in snow covered mountains; tribes preparing their boats for racing on the Yukon River; people dressing up in fancy attire for the Midnight Sun Run Festival; visitors from all around the globe simply enjoying the warm hot springs on gloomy days; sailing on a cruise in the sea to admire those alluring and captivating beauty of glaciers; or those breathtaking views of Northern Lights (which I missed as it is not visible in summer). Overall, all these days I have spent learning and experiencing new things in this place has been reminding me that Alaska’s beauty is unfathomable and you have to definitely come here to see what you cannot see in movies. With the end of my internship and beginning of a new journey of my life I would like to thank all the people I have met, all the places I have been to, all the things I have learnt, all the memories I have made. There would have been no better place for an internship than Alaska and no better host environmental health department than TCC-OEH.
Association of ENVIRONMENTAL health academic programs