I wouldn’t be able to tell you what a day-to-day experience working in the Department of Health is like. I only say that because I don’t ever know what my workday will hold for me until I walk through the office door—but the uncertainty is what has made my internship experience so special this summer. I’ve spent eight weeks working in my hometown, South Bend, as an intern for the St. Joseph County Department of Health under the vector management program to track certain diseases that are transferred from animals/insects to humans, such as West Nile Virus or Eastern equine encephalitis, two diseases we are primarily concerned about regulating in Northern Indiana. In general, I technically interned for the environmental sector of the health department, which handles and ensures the safety of a wide variety of potentially hazardous agents, such as tattoo/body piercing parlors, massage services, septic systems, and well drilling, to name a few. I’ve been able to tag along on many inspections for some of these, giving me the opportunity to see the multidisciplinary within my internship (andsome interesting stories to tell). Besides this, without going into too much detail, my work for vector management consisted of a plethora of tracking, trapping, identifying, and testing mosquitoes as well as a bit of tick studies on the side; mosquitoes are the main vector for the diseases mentioned earlier, and there is minimal information as to where there are concentrated tick populations that carry Lyme disease in the St. Joseph County community.
We would set up certain kinds of traps to catch vector-specific species of mosquitoes, sort through the traps after they passively collect mosquitoes over a certain period of time, and then either test them in our office for West Nile Virus or send them to the state health department to test for a wider variety of diseases. For ticks, we would use a canvas that resembles mammalian skin to bait ticks into attaching themselves and store the ticks to mail to the state. I’ve been able to visit places in our county that I had never previously explored because of this—I’ve been able to explore different nature preserves and parks or private property that we had permission to look around at.
I applied for this internship on a whim, and I headed into it without a general idea of what I would be doing, or what the role of the county health department has in the community. All I knew was that I wanted a new and atypical opportunity to help others and something that would push my comfort zone a bit. Yet at the same time, working in the health department has been the greatest summer job I’ve had— I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I’ve had for anything, and I’m extremely grateful for all of the great people I’ve met that are doing unnoticed and underappreciated work. I want to give a special thanks to alumni Dr. RobertEinterz’77 and Dr. Sam Milligan ’68 for providing me with the opportunity to intern for the health department as well as Brett Davis and Josiah Hartman for making the experience enjoyable and engaging.