It feels more like yesterday than 8 months ago when I just arrived home from a three-month journey, unpacked my bags and returned each trivial item I had brought with me to its original spot. They adjusted back to the familiarity of my Australian home so tranquilly and silently. But I knew they all suffered from some form of withdrawal syndrome, and so did I. We needed closure.
I had imagined closure would lie in a gratifying conclusion to the time I spent half the globe away from home, and started to reflect on what the internship had meant to me. I had come across many brilliant and beautiful minds and made friends with passionate people who shared similar career goals. But unlike this inspirational crew who contributed to quality WHO publications, succeeded in securing a job or made drastic differences to their promising futures, I seemed to have problems identifying the one very thing that best signified the completion of my internship on a professional level.
Four months back home slipped by very quickly. I resumed to my job and studies, and the unanswered question still occasionally lingered in my mind. That is, until one summer day, in an email from my supervisor I learned that the Health Equity Monitor of the WHO Global Health Observatory was going live. Critical data on selected maternal and child health indicators in 90 low and middle-income countries as well as visual summaries showing current and historic health inequalities were made freely accessible online for all academic or general purposes. Suddenly the intended deliverables of my internship became quantifiable in digits and graphs that illustrated certain global health priorities. It dawned on me that the accompanying great sense of fulfillment was the best finale to the reflection of my experience at the WHO – closure was found.
Health equity monitoring is an ongoing task. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to return to the WHO this year to work on some new data and analyses for evidence-based planning towards universal and equitable health coverage. A movement that might take time, yet is paramount for a promising future. I thank Miss Nicole Bergen for all her contributions!
Inner-City Medicine Club
“If you try and cure people with autism, you may as well cure the way people use a knife and fork. There’s not right and wrong. We’re just different.” Five weeks in and year ten medicine club was going well. After sessions teaching students about the role of a GP, pandemics and the NHS, I braved my first session on disability. I was nervous about broaching sensitive issues with this group of students (particularly after a student opened her presentation on pandemics with a YouTube rap about swine flu!), and in linking disability with medicine at all, but I felt strongly that disability should be discussed more openly in schools.
My desire to run a school medicine club arose from my internship in the Disabilities and Rehabilitation department at WHO. My literature review on interventions to prevent violence against persons with disabilities suggests that education is a key way of preventing disability hate crime. As well as this research, I spent a morning with Tom Shakespeare at the International School of Geneva where he answered the students’ questions about disability, with reference to his own impairments. Tom explained to the students how unpleasant it feels to be stared at and encouraged the students to compare looking at someone with an impairment to looking at an exceptionally attractive person. “You just do a little sideways glance to check them out, you don’t point and stare.” I knew the talk would stay with the students for a long time, informing their own ideas about disability in a positive way, and considered ways of carrying this message to other schools.
I imagined a curriculum exploring the nuances between impairment and disability, the complexities of mental health and the provisions available for people with impairments, discussed in an environment free of embarrassment or pity. But how could we ensure this was delivered appropriately? How could we train teachers to use sensitive language? And are schools even the best place to talk about these issues? I am still considering these questions. My aim is to design this curriculum in full over the next few years, but for now my experiments are part of The Access Project’s extra-curricular activities in inner-city London schools.
The Access Project is a charity which organises one-to-one tuition for disadvantaged students with the aim of helping them get better grades and access places at top universities. Our extra-curricular activities are designed to develop the students’ ‘soft skills’, through debating, presentations and public speaking. I structured our first workshop on disability around a debate questioning whether scientists should attempt to find a cure for autism, and the students’ sensitivity and understanding showed me education about disability in schools is definitely a strategy worth pursuing.
More information about The Access Project and how to get involved is available here: www.theaccessproject.org.uk
The years leading up to my arrival at WHO were mostly filled with attending university and trying to figure out what I wanted to do once I graduated. During this time I completed a BA in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and a Master’s degree in Comparative Social Policy at the University of Oxford. At university I pursued passions in global health (particularly mental health), health systems research, and policy coordination. Outside the classroom I found a particular interest in mentorship, which led to the spearheading of an undergraduate mentoring program, and active searching for my own academic and career mentors.
For my internship at WHO I was fortunate to be chosen for a project in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. I worked on the final stages of an online portal on the harmful use of alcohol, which provides alcohol-related information and a self-help program for people who wanted to reduce their consumption of alcohol. The final days of my internship saw the launch of this portal in Belarus, Brazil, India, and Mexico.
Besides the lasting friendships I made with fellow interns, the highlight of my internship was definitely the excellent relationship I had with my supervisor. I worked hard to demonstrate my capabilities and my commitment to the project, and to develop a lasting relationship with both my supervisor and the broader Department. The rapport I built with my supervisor proved to be extremely helpful, as she was very supportive in my search for employment following my internship, as well as my subsequent contracts with WHO.
Following my internship I was able to take advantage of a connection my supervisor had made for me, and was offered a position at the University of Melbourne. There I worked for the Centre for International Mental Health, whose work portfolio focuses on global mental health and development. During this time I also accepted a short, remote contract with WHO which built upon the work I had done for the Alcohol Portal. Both roles further embedded me in the world of global health, and helped me stay connected to WHO. As an added bonus of being in Melbourne I was able to catch up with numerous Melbourne-based WHO alumni who I had met during my internship.
My sustained connection with WHO has again proven to be fruitful, as I am currently moving back to Geneva to be a WHO consultant on a project to scale up health services for people with epilepsy. I am very excited about returning to Geneva, and can’t wait to have a whole new set of experiences at WHO.
If I had any advice for future interns hoping to make the most of their time at WHO, it would be to connect with as many people as possible. It’s an incredible opportunity to have so many global health experts right down the hall, and these connections will be informative and helpful for the future. Best of luck!
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