Finishing up at the Cambridge Public Health Department

It amazes me how quickly the summer can go by! I have thoroughly enjoyed being an intern in the Division of Epidemiology and Data Services at the Cambridge Public Health Department. In the past few weeks, I took some time off from working on the Cambridge neighborhood wellness index to work on two other projects: a health resource map and heart disease and stroke mapping project. These projects utilized the GIS mapping skills I gained in the previous weeks. I had a very productive meeting with staff from the Division of Community Health and Wellness, another division within the Cambridge Public Health Department, to discuss the health resource map. Much of our conversation circled back to the idea that to maintain good health, people need access to more than hospitals and health clinics; the food resources and recreation opportunities available to people are also important.

This internship has both challenged and helped shape my views of social justice in healthcare. By researching the social determinants of illness, I have learned a lot about how where we live shapes our habits and views on health. Although in many cases it is ultimately an individual’s responsibility to make healthy choices (i.e. choosing to snack on fruits and vegetables instead of junk food), the location in which a person has grown up has a huge impact on not only what choices a person makes regarding his or her health, but what options are available. In looking at the health resource map I drafted, I saw that certain areas of Cambridge seemed less accessible to some health services like hospitals and pharmacies. This observation got me thinking: are these areas lacking other resources? How does a lack of access to these services contribute to illness? I think that it is important to address the root of the problem to improve health equity.

Having completed my internship, I want to learn even more about epidemiology and public health research. The projects I worked on reinforced and broadened what I know about the connection between social factors and illness. As a Jerome A. Schiff Undergraduate Research Fellow, I am looking forward to incorporating what I learned this summer about health disparities into my research project on community gardens as primary prevention of childhood obesity. I have a greater appreciation for the ways in which the built environment fosters or discourages healthy living habits. This internship made it clear to me that I want to work in public health, and I am interested in learning more about epidemiology. Although I cannot take Intro to Epidemiology until senior year, I plan on learning as much as I can about epidemiology by reading about it. I think that the best way to learn is through experience, so my advice to anyone interested in a certain subject or field is to try it out! Ask questions, get to know the other people in the office, and give it your best. An internship is a great way to explore your interests and maybe get a better sense of what you want to do after Brandeis. I learned a lot about how social disparities influence health, and I will definitely apply what I learned this summer to my future studies.

– Jennifer Mandelbaum ’14