Students Share Their Summer Public Health Practica Experiences
It may be midwinter, but first-year Master’s students already have summer on their minds. Across Columbia Mailman, students are busy exploring their options for the summer public health internships known as the Applied Practice Experience, or APEx, which typically takes place between May and August before they begin their second year.
The APEx gives students the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom after their first year and gain hands-on experience to prepare them for a future in public health.
“The goals of the APEx are to allow students to apply what they learned in class in a real-life setting, to get exposed to different fields of public health, and understand and see themselves as professionals,” said Ana Jimenez-Bautista, director of Field Practice, Office of Careers and Field Practice.
Students can apply for APEx positions with public health organizations in the United States and abroad, including dozens of organizations with which the School has strong ties—or they can design their own unique experience using their own personal networks, as well as the offerings suggested through their academic departments.
The Office of Field Practice offers resources throughout the process and on January 31 hosted an event where they provided an overview of the APEx search and program requirements alongside a panel of second-year students who discussed their application process and APEx experience. The Office of Field Practice also offers financial support through several fellowship and scholarship programs, and disseminates a modest Columbia Mailman-supported stipend to all students.
There are three summer funding programs: the Food Fellowship, the Forward Community Fellowship, and the Huo Scholarship. All three are open to first-year MPH students pursuing a two-year degree and two-year MHA and MS Biostatistics students, and while each fellowship accepts a different number of students, they each offer $5,000 to their recipients. The call for applications for 2023 fellowships will be announced in March on the Field Practice Canvas site accessible to students.
The Food Fellowship is open to students working with an organization to bring resources and improve access to healthy food in local communities while conducting research on food policy and food systems.
For 2022 Food Fellow Rachael Metz, this meant working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the National Agricultural Library (NAL). Metz, a second year in the Population and Family Health department completing a certificate in Health Promotion Research and Practice, conducted a needs assessment of the NAL’s online collection available for use by both researchers and the general public. She also wrote blog posts and email blasts and used Google Analytics to identify search trends on food-related topics.
“I enjoyed getting to learn more about everything that USDA encompasses and talk to folks from all different corners of the department and learn about the different facets of the USDA and how they’re integrated with other government agencies,” said Metz.
The Huo Summer APEx Scholarship is awarded to students working in agencies devoted to the public good, through a local department of public health or other public agency or a community or non-profit organization.
Gabriella Khawly, a second-year MPH student in the Department of Epidemiology pursuing a certificate in Health Policy and Practice, was one Huo Fellow. For her 2022 APEx, she worked as a policy intern at the New York Academy of Medicine. She conducted a community health needs assessment for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. She also conducted independent research on overdose prevention centers in New York and published a related op-ed.
Khawly highlighted her experience writing op-eds, one of which was published in the New York Daily News and another in Gotham Gazette, as being one of her favorite aspects of the experience, saying, “It was really cool to see this from the early stages of doing research and writing communications that are palatable to the public to see that through and be part of the larger campaign.”
FORWARD Community Fellowship
The FORWARD Community Fellowship provides funding for APEx projects that focus on antiracist health initiatives, with all projects taking place in Washington Heights, Inwood, Harlem, and the South Bronx.
Riki Eijima, a second-year MPH student in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences with a certificate in History, Ethics, and Law completed her APEx with the Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education in the South Bronx. Eijima conducted a community health needs assessment, walking around the neighborhood to identify specific neighborhood features in the built environment as well as visiting local community organizations and parks to see what resources they had available and compared those with the information on their websites.
When reflecting on the community health needs assessment, Eijima recalled, “All the theory that I’m learning, especially in SMS, it has applications…it was very affirming in that I’ve learned a lot and can be helpful in the world.”