It is estimated that Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection is responsible for around 36,500 new cancer cases each year in the United States. Beyond that, HPV is among the most common STI’s in the U.S., with nearly all sexually active people contracting the virus at some point in their lives. The St. Joseph County Health Department, in seeking to reduce the burden of cancer in the county, tasked me with developing the strategic plan to reduce HPV cancers by increasing uptake of the highly safe and effective HPV vaccine.
In this internship, I had weekly collaborations with unit directors and health officers to develop the department’s HPV immunization strategic plan. At the end of the summer, I gave a presentation to the Health Equity, Epidemiology, and Data (HEED) Unit regarding the work I did during my time at the health department. I helped initiate an HPV outreach event with a local youth group through the department’s mobile vaccine clinic, and I even got a chance to engage firsthand in educational community outreach at the opening of a new vaccine clinic location and at a local back-to-school event.
Over the course of the summer, I interacted with many different units within the health department, acting as an advocate for HPV. I learned a great deal about how public policy develops, and how public health functions as an extension of local government. By far the most notable parts of my internship, however, were the connections I was able to make. The public servants at the St. Joseph County Health Department are a wonderful group of people, with an intense passion for public health and a genuine interest in the benefit of the community they serve. As an aspiring health worker, it has been inspiring to work among this group and eye-opening to see the depth of work done to improve public health in my home community.
I am so glad for the opportunity I was given to improve the health of the St. Joseph County community, and I would like to extend special thanks to Cassy White, Robin Vida, Shelley Chaffee, and Robert Einterz for their guidance and support in my work this summer.