Wrapping up

Throughout my internship I have learned so many valuable lessons. The most important one is that you have to be flexible, creative, and reflective because everything is a learning process. Working at a relatively new start-up has also reinforced this. The programs OSW runs are extremely new and depend heavily on the audience. For example, the program we run in downtown Oakland is extremely different from the program that we run in Alameda because there are two different, distinct demographic groups that attend each one. The people who attend these events are receptive to different movement coaches, music, and food, so we have to be extremely aware of what different people need and be flexible enough to change our program to fit their needs while still providing the same support.

At the end of one of our programs last week, my bosses came up to me and said, “We’re never letting you go. You have to stay and become head of HR and our operations director. You can’t go back to Boston.” Honestly, that meant so much to me because it showed me that I am actually making a difference. As an intern, I sometimes feel as though I am learning a lot from the organization and the experience, but that I am not giving back as much as they are giving me. This showed me that I was wrong. Now that I am taking this time to reflect, I think I helped the organization branch out and make connections with different providers in the area, find potential new interns for the fall (to replace me), and create a fluid transition when they shifted their main program to a module system earlier this month.

As I have written in previous posts, my internship is not a typical internship. My bosses push all of the interns to step outside of our comfort zones with projects, be vulnerable with them and each other, and be confident in everything that we do (whether or not we feel that way inside). I wish I had known this about the organization beforehand because I believe it would have taken me a lot less time to open up to them and become comfortable doing these things. I think I would have been a better intern from the very beginning instead of half way through.

My advice to any future interns at Open Source Wellness or people seeking an internship in healthcare or nonprofit work is to be open to new experiences and different types of people. A career in social justice or health care both involve working with people who have backgrounds that are completely different from yours and from each other. Be open to them and what you will learn from one another. Also, make connections and be authentic. Oftentimes, when people are struggling with difficult health issues, they are embarrassed or distressed about their situation. It is extremely important to connect with them on a personal level and share your own story and struggles so they know they are not alone and have nothing to be ashamed of. Finally, be passionate. A career in public health or community health is not easy because change happens slowly. Only people who are truly passionate about healthcare and community health will have the patience to make lasting change.

Here are the only two photos I have at work:

(The interns practicing taking each other’s blood pressure)

(Me taking a patient’s blood pressure during our program)

Thank you for keeping up with my summer journey!

My New Skills

Over the past eight weeks my internship at Open Source Wellness has allowed me to grow and learn so much in a short amount of time. I believe this is mainly due to how small and young the organization is. The OSW staff is composed of the two founders, four undergraduate interns, and one graduate student intern, and officially started running programs in October of 2016. Due to this structure, I am given a lot more responsibility than most interns at larger organizations are given. I have gained numerous skills because of the uniqueness of start-up culture.

First, I have strengthened my organizational and leadership skills. During our Tuesday night events, I have been tasked with helping coordinate and organize the event, and with leading the meditation portion for two weeks. Although these tasks were daunting at first, I have seen that I can take on challenges that are typically out of my comfort zone and still succeed. At Brandeis, I am a coordinator for Big Siblings through Waltham Group. As a coordinator, I am in charge of running and leading multiple events. I believe my responsibility to help run OSW events and leading the meditation sessions have helped me gain both the skills necessary to organize the logistical aspects and have the confidence to lead the actual events.

Second, I have strengthened my professional networking skills. One of my main jobs has been to reach out to healthcare providers to form referral partnerships with them. I call, email, and meet with them to explain the program we run at Open Source Wellness, and urge them to refer their patients to us. Through this task, I have gained extremely valuable networking skills. I now know how to speak with professionals on an individual basis, and I have gained more confidence when I speak with people who are much older than I am and who have a lot more experience than I do. This will help me in the future with my networking skills because I will know how to communicate professionally and be Pleasantly Persistent.

Third, I have learned how to understand and relate to people who are different than I am. Many of the individuals I work with live in a low-income, re-entry housing community, and are mainly people of color who have been incarcerated or homeless. This is a very different demographic than I am used to working with and that I, myself, can relate to. Through this experience, I have found ways to connect to people who are extremely different from me. I have seen firsthand that most people struggle with the same health issues, regardless of their backgrounds, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity.

Lastly, I have also learned a lot about myself in the workplace, including my strengths and weaknesses. I have discovered that it is difficult for me to draw boundaries when I am asked to do something that goes beyond my capabilities or job description. I find that when a superior asks me to if I want or can do something I say yes, almost automatically, even if I cannot. I have been pushing myself to stick to my boundaries and communicate with my supervisors when I am unable to do something. Here is an interesting article about crossing boundaries in the workplace. I also found out that it takes me longer than most people to become comfortable in a work environment. It took me a few weeks to get to know the work environment at OSW before I became comfortable, personally and professionally.

Furthering Social Justice

Open Source Wellness officially began running their first event in October 2016 and their second event this past April. Considering it is an extremely young organization, the founders have many goals and milestones they want to achieve. Their main social justice goal is to reach more people in low-income communities.

The organization was founded by two psychologists, Liz and Ben, who came up with the idea behind Open Source Wellness while they worked in different health clinics in Boston. They continuously saw patients who were referred to them by doctors who told the patients that they needed to change their eating habits, exercise more, or reduce their stress to combat the chronic health conditions they were facing. Wealthier patients could hire a nutritionist, personal trainer, or join a meditation group. However, people who lived in low-income communities went back to their same lifestyle because they did not know how and did not have the means to change the way they ate or acted. Through these experiences, Ben and Liz decided to open a “behavioral pharmacy” to help people make major lifestyle changes at little or no cost. Their doctor could write a prescription to go to Open Source Wellness to get support in making lifestyle changes. Even though this is their mission, Ben and Liz have been struggling to reach this demographic.

Below are pictures of Liz and Ben:

 

To combat this issue, the other interns and myself have been reaching out to providers, including clinics, doctors’ offices, and community centers in low-income areas in an attempt to form a referral partnership with them. We have been giving them free spaces that are reserved for their patients in our month-long program upon their referral. By reserving certain spots for their patients, we are creating a scarcity of spaces that they can fill which will incentivize them to fill the spots. Hopefully, once they see how helpful the program is for their patients, they will start sending more people. Some of the clinics we have been speaking with seem extremely interested in our mission, so we started talking with them about running an event in their clinic. These would be solely for their patients or members and would happen in the clinics or centers. West Oakland Health Center and Project Open Hand are two of the groups that we have been meeting with.

If the clinics followed through with their pledge to get their patients to sign up for our July cohort, which starts on July 11th, that is what progress would look like. It would also include one or more of the new clinics or centers allocating money to OSW to begin an event in their building, exclusively for their patients.

Provider outreach has been my main long-term task as an intern at OSW. I have spent countless hours emailing, calling, and meeting with doctors and administrators to tell them about the program that OSW offers, and to speak with them about creating a referral partnership.

Bringing Brandeis Knowledge to Oakland

During the spring semester at Brandeis, I took the course Narcopolitics with Professor Brian Fried. Through this course, I learned about the correlation between drug use and incarceration rates. A recurring issue that we discussed throughout the course was the elevated rates at which children of formerly incarcerated persons are likely to be incarcerated when compared to children whose parents have not experienced incarceration. This comparison shocked me at the time. Currently, I am witnessing the reality of this fact and it is extremely unsettling.

Here is a link to an article that explains the cycle of intergenerational incarceration.

Many of the individuals I work with at Alameda Point Collaborative, a low-income housing community, were previously incarcerated or homeless. The people who attend events through Open Source Wellness are mainly in their fifties and sixties, and many of them have older children who have also been incarcerated. One of the women who regularly attends our events explained her experience with incarceration. She described her long struggle to move past this difficult time in her life because of the legal, social, and emotional restrictions she experienced. Now, her son faces a long prison sentence. She spoke about her inner struggle about the best way to support him, and if she chooses to support him at all. She does not know if she can deal with the responsibility of trying to get him released early or if she is willing to support him when he is released because she feels she put a lot of effort into trying to break the cycle of incarceration. She said she understands that it is more likely for her children to be sent to prison, because she did, but she hoped her children would break the statistic.

Above are pictures of the community garden and kitchen where the residents of APC grow and cook the food that they serve at our events.

Many of these individuals have been incarcerated for drug offenses. There are strong genetic links and environmental factors that influence drug use. The children of parents who have drug or alcohol addictions often begin their lives with a hereditary vulnerability in addition to the impact of their parent’s drug addiction. Additionally, the loss of parental role models for long periods of time during a parent’s absence due to imprisonment negatively impacts breaking the cycle of incarceration. I recently read an article about recent research that proposes that 40%-70% of people in the prison system have Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) which the researchers contest has a strong genetic link, further adding to the cycle of incarceration.

In Professor Fried’s course I learned about the unfairness of U.S. drug laws and the impact they have on the cycle of incarceration. With this knowledge, I am more informed about the challenges facing individuals who were incarcerated, especially the difficulties encountered in breaking the cycle of incarceration. My role at the Open Source Wellness program, is to help run the weekly event by facilitating a group discussion in a weekly women’s circle. I feel as though my increased understanding of incarceration in the U.S. is helping me support these women in a way that is meaningful and helpful to them.

Reflecting on the summer

Wow, did summer fly by. I spent the last few days at ICAAP reflecting upon everything I had learned, both small and large. I feel as though, most important to my personal, career, and academic life, I fulfilled my goal of learning about childhood trauma and its implications on society. While I still have much more to learn, it’s a teaching that permeates into  how I view my classes, my relationships, and how I want to make a difference in the future. My academic goals guided my career goals significantly, as I now feel as though I have a better grasp of the path I want my career to take. While my vision for the future is far from solidified, I definitely feel as though I have a better understanding of what I am looking for in terms of work environment for the future. For starters, the work atmosphere at ICAAP is a great fit for my type of learning style. It revolved largely around autonomous work, and self-initiatives, which is perfect for me. When I am first assigned a task, I like to immerse myself in noise-cancelling headphones, and just be solitary in my understanding of the task. However, ICAAP also encourages collaboration and discussions, which helps provide a dynamic work environment that largely revolves around solitary work, but encourages mutuality. In future jobs, this is the balance I will look for to best fit my own learning style. My third goal is networking, which I partially fulfilled, but is definitely something I need to work on. Oftentimes I would become so immersed in a conversation with one person, that a room would clear out before I had a chance to follow up with additional people. I networked well within the ICAAP realm, however, wish that I had networked more extensively outside of our organization.

To any student looking to intern at ICAAP: Do it. Do it especially with the staff in the ECD realm. I feel so incredibly grateful to have been surrounded by such a strong and open group of women. If you are looking to intern in public health realms in general, beware that experiences vary quite dramatically within each organization. Even ICAAP, which is part of  a national organization, has drastically different work environments in each. When you are interviewing, make sure you know what the work environment will be like, whether they will give you fulfilling work, and whether they will challenge you. There are a lot of great articles that talk about how to assess if you will be satisfied in a job, like this one! Also, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and advice.

My proudest moment of the summer was giving my final presentation to a group of 40 professionals introducing them to the realm of childhood trauma. My fellow intern and I were so unbelievably nervous, especially because we followed up one of the best public speakers I’ve ever heard. After we finished, we knew we did a great job, which was only reinforced by professionals we had met and our bosses.

Presenting at the Governor State University on childhood trauma
Presenting at Governor State University on childhood trauma

Blog Post #3 – NARAL

One of the main goals I had for my summer internship experience was to enhance my communication skills. I was able to achieve this goal while evolving as a professional in ways that I could not anticipate before my internship began. When I originally set this goal, I assumed I would meet it by engaging with folks one on one to discuss NARAL’s work. I absolutely did communicate with people in this way, especially at events where NARAL hosted a table, such as the Boston Pride Parade and Suffolk University’s Menstrual Health Conference. Overtime, I did become more confident in representing the organization and its mission by talking to people individually and in smaller groups. However, another way in which I was able to bolster my communications skills was through my work as a member of the NARAL staff and intern team.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, my supervisor left the organization a few weeks after my internship started, which proved to be a difficult transition for my fellow interns and me.  I expressed concern about the transition to my interim supervisor and engaged in an honest dialogue about the environment that resulted from my initial supervisor’s departure. This conversation was a turning point for me, in both a professional and personal way, as I embraced the opportunity to advocate for myself and express my honest sentiments in a constructive manner.

In the past, I have had difficulty expressing or advocating for my needs, as it is more my nature to please others and shy away from disrupting the flow. However, I realized that if I did not advocate for myself in this situation, my internship experience would suffer. I had a positive dialogue with my temporary supervisor during our initial conversation, which resulted in her understanding and action.  My temporary supervisor enacted immediate changes and was sure to check-in with me periodically to keep the communication lines open and honest. This entire experience proved to be extremely rewarding since I stepped out of my comfort zone and went out on a limb to advocate for myself. I found my voice in a way that I did not know existed. Despite the brief period of disruption, this experience was valuable to my personal and professional growth.

For any students interested in interning with NARAL or another organization in the field of health care advocacy, I would advise them to ask as many questions as possible. The realm of politics and health care policy is filled with nuances and an overwhelming amount of information. The best way to become familiar with all of this information is by continuing to learn and ask questions. The staff members at NARAL have always happily answered my questions and have taken the time to thoroughly explain policies to me. The staff’s openness to inquiries contributes to the positive atmosphere of the office, which is something that I really appreciated about this internship.

(NARAL is currently looking to hire a graphic design intern, and put this image out!) Keep Calm

Overall, this was a fantastic summer, and I am so grateful to the WOW program for allowing me to have this experience.

Here is a picture of another NARAL intern dropping off petitions at the State House. Nate petition

 

For more on recent legislative hearings that included NARAL bills, check out this article!

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/08/13/legislation-aims-protect-privacy-health-insurance-forms/HGvYA5Xip9SLXOK9IGRhzH/story.html

For more on the Joint Committee that heard our NARAL bill, look at this government site:

https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Joint/J11

 

A Sneak Peek into the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Brought to you by Max Justice Parish: Part 3, The Intersection of Big Data & Politics

love-big-data

I am sitting in my cubicle. It’s hot. The air conditioner is on very low because certain un-named colleagues like to keep it that way. I bring a small fan to the office, positioning it right next to my face, setting it on high to take full advantage of its gift of cool air. Today it is the only thing that keeps me awake. It’s 1pm and I already have that “2:30pm” feeling. But I am lucky – I have a good task to match my afternoon drowsiness. My supervisor needs me to compile a list of zip codes that comprise each Massachusetts legislator’s district, in addition to researching how many participants of the state’s Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC) program there were in each district in 2013. It’s a good task to have at the moment, because it only requires repetition by calling many numbers asking for the same information. The task is not as simple as conducting a quick google search; only the legislative offices have access to the precise zip codes of each district, and I need to dig deep into the computer system’s files before I discover a record of EAEDC participants. I spend the day calling approximately 50 offices. Most aides that I talk to can recite the zip codes off the top of their heads, but some put me in hold for 20 minutes (I enjoy the State House’s on-hold music so it wasn’t a bad experience by any means), a few scold me for wasting their time, and two offices could not identify which Boston zip codes their districts occupy. Such is life working in politics. I enjoy it.

I spend most of my day collecting this data. A lot of people would find this project to be menial and only that. But you’ve likely heard the following statement over-and-over again somewhere recently: we live in an era of big data. What makes this era so exciting, you ask? Put simply, we use data to make better, more impactful decisions. For this particular project, gathering these zip codes and piecing them together with the number of postcards we send to each district (postcards being a classic advocacy tool used to empower the public to communicate with their legislators). This information allows us to best choose which zip codes we need to dedicate more energy and resources to in order to enhance the likelihood that our policy campaigns are successful. This prospect may not seem all too exciting, especially when making call after call to gather data. But it is meaningful, and I do appreciate it.

I truly care about addressing homelessness. Facebook friends of mine may even have the perception that it is “my issue,” or “THE” issue that I am passionate about. I can’t blame them. But do not be fooled; I care very much for addressing sexual violence, ridding our culture of the patriarchy, eliminating white supremacy, pursuing environmental justice, etc., in addition to addressing homelessness. I want more. I want to address as many topics of injustice as I can. This is precisely why I have made it a career goal of mine to help progressive lawmakers get elected to office so that they can address the breadth of these issues. Not everyone gets to be the next President of the United States, or the next Governor of Massachusetts; not everyone gets to be the Executive Director of a nonprofit agency or the Chief Lobbyist; hard work is required of a support system to ensure that these positions are attained and are successful at what they seek to accomplish. I want to be a part of that process, and I want to take advantage of voter data to do it.

My internship at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless was great because I was given the opportunity to fulfill meaningful responsibilities while learning a ton about careers in advocacy, what it takes to organize a successful advocacy campaign, and how to manage relationships with lawmakers. As someone who has completed unrewarding and menial internships in the past, I recommend interning at the Coalition. It is the sort of organization where you can step right in and make as much of an impact as you choose to; where you can dedicate as much time as you wish and receive a commensurate amount of growth and learning in return. If I were to re-do my first few months at the Coalition, I would work more proactively on new projects and find ways to make an impact on my own instead of solely relying on the instructions from my supervisors. The truth is that they are too busy, as most internship supervisors likely are, to always be supervising. If you have the time, it may be beneficial for you to show initiative and work on a project of your own, in addition to working on what you are assigned, in order to gain the most out of your experience and maximize the support that you provide to the organization that you intern for. The Coalition offers the sort of welcoming environment that lends an ear to these projects and new ideas coming from interns. That is why I tout it so highly.

If you are interested in learning more about the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, careers in advocacy, topics of homelessness, or my own experience interning, please feel free to reach out to me via e-mail, shpilman@brandeis.edu.

Max Parish, ’16

Completion of Internship at AIDS Action Committee

During my eight weeks at AIDS Action Committee (AAC), I was able to learn and grow immensely from my interactions with coworkers and our clients. I am proud to say that at AAC I was able to meet all of my learning goals that I defined at the beginning of my internship. An academic goal that I had was to be able to use information that I had learned in my public health classes to further examine the health disparities that clients at AAC faced. Through the “Getting to Zero” training series that AAC facilitated, I was able to learn more about the root causes of HIV/AIDS not only through a scientific model, but also through a public health lens that focused on social, psychological, political, and economical perspectives of the disease.

Ribbon
Artwork in AAC’s entrance lobby

A personal goal I had was to learn more about real estate and the housing market. Learning the housing search terminology and the procedures for obtaining property information was the most challenging, but also the most rewarding part of my internship. Towards the end of my internship, I worked on a draft for a “Housing Search Guide” that would be able to help guide future interns and employees in AAC’s housing program. Creating this guide was a rewarding experience because I had the chance to collaborate with my coworkers to create something that would benefit future AAC employees: people who all share the common goal of being social justice advocates for those living with HIV/AIDS. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to work in the housing department, as I was able to see first-hand how large the need is for access to safe and affordable housing and how acquiring this housing can drastically improve quality of life, especially for those who are sick.

Additionally, a career goal I had was to learn how to best educate and advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses. Attending the “Getting to Zero” training and helping to facilitate housing search groups provided insight on some of the most pertinent needs of AAC’s clients. One video that I watched during the training was HIV: The Goal of Undetectable, which highlighted the mechanism of how HIV acts in the body and helped me better understand how HIV treatment works. The videos and brochures presented to us during trainings were informative, engaging, and simplified enough for people of various educational backgrounds to understand. For additional information on HIV/AIDS that I used as part of my trainings, click here.

Brochure from one of the "Getting to Zero" trainings on Young Adults and HIV/AIDS.
Brochure from one of the “Getting to Zero” trainings on Young Adults and HIV/AIDS.

Working at AAC helped me to clarify my career goals, as I was able to see a wide range of services that AAC provides. Though I worked at AAC’s Boston site, I had the chance to visit Youth on Fire, which is AAC’s program in Cambridge that helps homeless youth, and I also worked at AAC’s Cambridge site in Central Square, where I got to visit the Needle Exchange Program that focuses on harm reduction for intravenous drug users. By seeing such a wide range of services and being able to engage and relate to such diverse groups of people, I relieved that my interests in public health are indeed very broad. The one commonality between my experiences is that I learned that advocacy is a field that I am definitely interested in gaining more work experience in, and that I want to pursue further opportunities in HIV/AIDS and public health.

 

One bit of advice I would give to a student interested in interning at AAC is to take advantage of the wide range of services provided here and try to experience different parts of the organization even if they are outside of the department that you are working in. This was crucial for me, and as a result, I was able to network with a wider range of people who still shared so many common interests with me. Another piece of advice would be to keep an open mind. I had a few misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and harm reduction at the start of my internship and some of the educational outlets that AAC provided me with were able to shift my understanding of different concepts and allowed me to view topics such as HIV/AIDS treatment, sexuality and contraception, drug use, and other harm reduction topics in a new light. I encourage students interested in learning more about HIV/AIDS to use internships as an educational tool by and taking advantage of hands-on opportunities to learn from diverse groups of people.

AIDS
Picture in AIDS Action Committee hallway.

 

Ngobitak Ndiwane, ’16

Week One of Empowerment through Education Camp: Hinche, Haiti (Contact Phase)

Sa kap fet!  At this point of my internship I have reached the Island of Hispaniola, and made my travels throughout Haiti from Port-au-Prince, where I landed, to Hinche where ETE Camp is held. We, five other teachers and I, have been holding sessions of ETE Camp for a week now and all I can say is that I am loving this experience. My new environment is only new to me in technical ways while the ambiance of my surrounding is all too familiar. I have been to the Caribbean many times and have spent weeks in my family’s countries of Guyana and Grenada. The familiarity of the food, culture, and day-to-day life of Hinche, Haiti is one that makes me feel close to home. It is not that hard to adjust although there are many inconveniences. The power is consistently inconsistent and makes it slightly harder to be comfortable in the sweltering summer heat and to get important things done by email. My work in ETE Camp, as a leader in the English class, and outside of it, as a Hinche community member, both involve the same levels of enthusiasm, attention, and participation from me, which I appreciate a lot. I feel fully immersed in this experience.

Port-au-Prince: The Have's and the Have not's
Port-au-Prince: The Have’s and the Have not’s

The world of work differs so much from academic/university life. Firstly, no one here cares about my grades, clubs, or the authors that I could name drop. People, to simply put it, care that I can do the tasks in front of me. Shaina Gilbert, the director of the camp, cares that I can bring to fruition all of the public health workshops that we discussed. Ms. Jessica, my teaching partner cares that I can effectively co-lead lessons in english with her. The students of ETE Camp care that I know what I am talking about and that I am there to help them be better leaders. The list goes on and on. I am not saying however that my academic transcript is insignificant or my resumé and mental stock of literary scholars is useless, because it is important. I am just noting how refreshing it is to take the skill I’ve learned from my academics like quantitative reasoning, flexibility, and quick-thinking and use them in an everyday setting of a classroom. The spontaneity of the students, ages 10-17, makes everyday, although planned through the curriculum, very much a series of surprises.

Education programs in Haiti article

 I’ve had recent discussions in my education group’s forum about this article and the complications of it being written by a white man and the tone that presents education as a luxury instead of as a right. That being said I am still including the article to continue the conversation of education’s meaning and how, as a community, we can do better to educate one another.

I am gaining a lot from working for ETE Camp. I am developing my teaching skills that include the ability to be charismatic and command the attention of others, improving my diction, and expanding my confidence in what I know, amongst other things. My ability to asses forms of nonverbal communication and look for context clues has sky-rocketed because I do not speak any Kreyol. The thing I enjoy about being an English teacher is that while the kids are learning English I am learning Kreyol and somehow we are able to meet in the middle and have this bond.

Some of the unbelievable students of the GREEN GROUP!
Some of the unbelievable students of the GREEN GROUP!

At this point in the camp the 60 day time students and the approximately 60 alumni kids make their way throughout the school between the hours of 7:30am and 6:00pm. The fact that we are seeing, most-likely, over 120 students a day is mind-blowing to me because I’ve gotten to know them personally in such a short amount of time. They all laugh at my Kreyol and I take their photos and teach them English. My public health projects just started and have been a hit so far, as we tackle positive self-esteem. I think I am getting a feel for what I want to do career-wise, which I appreciate a lot. In all honesty I can talk about ETE camp and Hinche all day but I think this will do for now. Bon soir!

ETE Camp blog

Zari Havercome, ’16

A little more than halfway done interning with the Boston Public Health Commission

It is amazing how quickly this summer has gone by and that I am more than half way done interning with the Boston Public Health Commission.  BPHC’s inspections of Boston public schools is completed for now, so I have been shadowing health inspectors as they conduct inspections in small businesses such as nail and hair salons.  I also went to an emergency health hazard call at a restaurant in Mattapan where a sewage pipe burst in the basement of the building complex, which also affected a neighboring barbershop.  The restaurant’s permit for operation was suspended until the matter was cleared up and they passed a follow-up inspection.  I still find it  interesting to observe the protocol for each inspection, in different types of businesses, that the commission deals with on a day-to-day basis.

In addition to shadowing these inspections, a majority of my work this month was directed towards finding an affordable ventilation system for nail salons that meets the new regulation standards.  Recent regulations put into effect by the commission regarding ventilation in nail salons include an increased outdoor airflow rate and the banning of recycled air within the salons.  These requirements follow those set forth by the International Mechanical Code of 2009 http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/imc/2009/icod_imc_2009_4_par015.htm and must be fulfilled by October of this year.  Most of the salons will have trouble meeting this deadline for financial reasons, as existing ventilation systems that fulfill the requirements are pricey.

Finding appropriate ventilation for the salons is difficult as well because specific requirements pose different challenges.  For example, the zero percent recycled air requirement will make it hard for salons to retain heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, so a system that can fulfill the need of exhausting air without losing heat is ideal, but expensive.  This is why the commission is working with students at Wentworth Institute of Technology on developing an affordable system.  I was tasked with trying to find a mechanical engineer who was familiar with the International Mechanical Code of 2009 and was interested in partnering with the Wentworth students on developing a system. However, none so far have shown a strong interest because the scope of the project is daunting, or because they are unfamiliar with the needs of the nail salons.

Lastly, I have continued to do educational outreach with nail salons and auto body shops through the commission’s Green and Clean program http://www.bphc.org/whatwedo/healthy-homes-environment/green-and-clean/Pages/Green-and-Clean.aspx.  This involves going out to new auto body shops throughout Boston to inform them about the program and its benefits, such as free advertising of your business on the commission’s website as being a “green” business.  If a business decides to sign on, then a follow-up walk through is conducted and if enough points are earned, then the business passes.  For auto body shops, points can be made for initiatives like recycling oil or windshield glass, in addition to using a water based primer instead of an oil based one.  Overall, my experience with the commission continues to be personally fulfilling as I feel that I am directly impacting the improvement of public health within the city of Boston, which is a fantastic feeling at the end of each day. I look forward to seeing what project I get involved in next.

IMG_0309IMG_0326To the left is a picture of a typical flammable storage container and it is required that all flammable or volatile chemicals be stored within one, such as the acetone seen in the picture in a nail salon.

To the right is a paint spraying room in an auto body shop.  One of the point based initiatives in the Green and Clean program is that all paint spraying conducted in an auto body shop must take place in one of these regulation spraying rooms with proper ventilation.

-Ben Krause ’15

Day 10 Without a Tick Incident

This summer I am conducting environmental research under the guidance of Professor Eric Olson at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. The Heller School focuses on utilizing interdisciplinary research, with public engagement, to respond to an ever-changing society.

After several meetings with Professor Olson last semester, we created a project focusing on gathering baseline data of the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) nymph population within the town of Weston, Massachusetts. It is critical to collect this data now because Weston legalized deer hunting last July. One of the many justifications for this legislation was that by controlling the deer population, there should be a gradual decline in the tick population. Decreasing the tick population is important since this would reduce the instance of diseases like Lyme disease and Babesiosis.

In preparation for this research, Professor Olson and I traveled to the University of Rhode Island to meet with Dr. Thomas Mather, the Director of URI’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and the TickEncounter Resource Center. Dr. Mather has been conducting tick based research and promoting tick-bite awareness for more than 20 years. His experience made him the ideal person to discuss our proposed research with. Beyond meeting with Professor Olson and me, Dr. Mather allowed us to be trained with the rest of his team. Under the guidance of Jason LaPorte, a research assistant at the TickEncounter Resource Center, Professor Olson and I were taught how to flag for ticks and how to keep the ticks that have been collected alive for later studies. This training has been invaluable and an incredible start to the summer.

Most people would think that field research would involve something like trekking through a tropical rainforest with huge backpacks of supplies. Or maybe, they think of a massive sailboat in the middle of the ocean with various pieces of large equipment for taking samples. I on the other hand, was shown that research could begin in a place as bizarre as a fabric store. Using these supplies, and the URI training, I was able to make the flags and vials for collecting ticks (see below).

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Through this research, I hope to prepare myself for a career in environmental research. I have completed several other field research projects, though none have been quite as extensive as this research. Completing a project that spans multiple months will help me confirm that field research is a realistic career. Furthermore, I plan on applying my lab knowledge by processing the ticks for the diseases mentioned above. The prevalence of tick-borne illness is commonly debated; by testing the ticks collected (more than 200 have been collected in less then a week of field work), I will be able to make a more accurate estimation of the prevalence of diseases within Weston.  By combining field and lab techniques, the research will be more comprehensive and thorough.

For more information on Weston’s Deer Management Program, please visit: bit.ly/14z1pAg

I hope everyone’s summer is off to a great start.

– Adam Krebs ’14

First Week at the Cambridge Public Health Department

The Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD) improves the quality of life of Cambridge residents and workers by encouraging healthy behaviors, fostering safe environments, and reducing illness.

I am interning at the CPHD’s Division of Epidemiology and Data Services, whose main objectives are to identify community health problems, evaluate population-based health services, and research innovative solutions to health problems. Epidemiologists study factors that influence population health, which serve as a basis for thinking about solutions to these problems.

I wanted an internship this summer that would allow me to learn more about public health departments and incorporate my interest in socioeconomic roots of illness. I researched internships at hospitals, community health centers, and public health departments. The internship at the Division Epidemiology and Data Services at CPHD interested me the most because the project would allow me to focus on social epidemiology and health initiatives in a city. I initially contacted them last fall for a spring internship, but there were no positions available. I kept in touch, and my perseverance paid off. I worked closely with the manager to find projects that will meet the department’s need for creative thinkers to analyze data while giving me the opportunity to advance my own goals by studying social determinants of health.

The Division of Epidemiology and Data Services recently received a grant to incorporate GIS (Geographic Information System) maps into their surveillance of chronic diseases. Integrating a GIS component would help identify areas of need and give direction for policy efforts. One of the ways in which GIS may be used is to create and map a neighborhood wellness index. This index would be overlaid with socioeconomic status and baseline health maps in order to identify any potential health disparities and spatial patterns in health outcomes and the environment. In my first week, I researched existing neighborhood wellness indexes and what layers of these indexes might be mapped (i.e., walkability, miles of bike lanes, green space, access to healthy food options, fitness stations, etc.). The map below shows how GIS technology can be used to map walkability. In this map, the darker shaded areas in the Seattle area are more walkable than the lighter areas.

King County, WA walkability mapped using GIS

Learn how GIS is used in public health on the World Health Organization’s page on GIS and Public Health Mapping.

Overall, my first week went very well! I liked that I was able to start working on a project right away, and the orientation I had on the first day helped me get better acquainted with the CPHD and the work of the Division. The work I have done so far has been very independent, but my supervisors check in with me often to make sure that I understand the project and answer any questions. I have enjoyed slowly getting to know the other people in the office. The other intern, an MPH student, and I went to a coffee shop on Thursday morning, and I liked hearing about her work and plans for the future. I found it helpful to speak with someone who is a little farther along in the process of working in public health than I am. I have already learned so much about working in a public health setting in this first week, and I expect that I will continue to learn more about epidemiology and the factors that contribute to illness as the summer progresses.

Image Sources:

http://www.cambridgema.gov/citynewsandpublications/news/2011/06/cambridgecelebratesmenshealthmonth1.aspx

http://www.b-sustainable.org/built-environment/walkability-index

– Jennifer Mandelbaum ’14