GIS Mapping at the Cambridge Public Health Department

The past few weeks of my internship have gone by quickly! It’s hard to believe I’m already at the halfway point. My internship in the Division of Epidemiology and Data Services at the Cambridge Public Health Department has given me the opportunity to begin to understand how social disparities affect community wellness through work on a neighborhood wellness index. By seeing how factors like cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality, obesity rate, green space, and walkability contribute to the health of a neighborhood, this project has reinforced what I have learned about the environment’s role in population health. When this data is overlaid with sociodemographic data, we will get a better sense of how social disparities affect community wellness. I’m proud of how the index is coming along, and I’m looking forward to learning how to map wellness indicators using the GIS program. Mapping the wellness index will take it from being a list of numbers and neighborhood wellness ratings to something more visual and dynamic. Although it has been challenging at times, I have enjoyed the process of starting with a project from scratch and seeing how it has evolved over several weeks.

In addition to the insight I have gained into chronic disease through the mapping project, this internship has given me an opportunity to see how a local public health department operates. Although much of the work I have done has been independent, the process of creating a neighborhood wellness index requires collaboration with colleagues in the Division of Epidemiology and Data Services, other divisions within the Cambridge Public Health Department, and other external partners in Cambridge. The collaborative aspect of public health doesn’t surprise me, given how interdisciplinary health is, but it wasn’t something I thought a lot about before starting this internship. The Division of Epidemiology and Data Services and the School Health program of the Cambridge Public Health Department share an office, so I have been able to see how they work together. The work I have done on this project and what I have learned about the other work of the Division has helped me gain a better understanding of what a public health department does and how public health data is collected, organized, and analyzed.

I have built a number of skills through this internship that I can transfer to academics and future career plans. The quantitative nature of this work will help me in my coursework at Brandeis by improving my data analysis skills. Brandeis social science courses tend to be qualitative, and this work will help me look at social factors in a more measurable way. A basic understanding of GIS software might be useful for courses at Brandeis, in graduate school, or in the workforce. I have also benefited from working in an office environment. Most of my other public health experience has involved hands-on field-based work, so this internship has taught me about working in an office and office etiquette. I’ve really enjoyed the first half of my internship, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the neighborhood wellness index goes in the second half.

 – Jennifer Mandelbaum ’14

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