by Andrea Wheeler, MPH – Family & Child Health – Global Health track
In December 2014, I was a second year MPH student searching for an internship. I decided to casually peruse the International Rescue Committee (IRC) website to explore their internship opportunities after hearing about positive internship experiences from friends. Thankfully, I found one listed! The position was for a graduate student to assist with the implementation of two programs, a Well-Being Promotion Program utilizing refugee community health workers, and the second was with the Survivors of Torture program. The Well-Being Promotion Program began six years ago as an internship project by a UA MPH student. I accepted the internship opportunity approximately a week after submitting my application and interviewing for the position. Throughout high school and undergrad, I had a few experiences volunteering with refugees, but I didn’t know much about the process of resettlement or what the IRC did.
The IRC is a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian assistance around the world including emergency response, healthcare, governance, research and advocacy. In addition, the IRC in the United States provides critical services to newly arrived refugees such as employment assistance through job readiness training, cultural orientation, housing assistance, nutrition, and more. The IRC has several offices across the United States and each office provides varying services. The IRC in Tucson provides resettlement assistance, economic empowerment (employment and job readiness training), community integration, health and wellness, and low-cost immigration services. Below is a chart from the Arizona Department of Health Services (2015) which depicts Arizona refugee countries of origin.
I worked with female health promoters who initially arrived in the United States as refugees, but have transitioned to successfully resettle in Tucson. The women served as promoters to their specific communities (Somali, Iraqi, and Congolese). The experience gave me a greater understanding of the value and importance of community health workers. I was able to see classroom content in the real world. I saw firsthand how community health workers have more insight to their respective communities, as the women had a way of communicating information in a different way than outsiders.
I was able to apply my skills in Family and Child Health, Global Health. I was sadly able to see firsthand some of the barriers refugees face in accessing healthcare. My internship experience exposed me to a variety of important community partnerships that are actively participating in public health work such as the Tucson Postpartum Depression Coalition and the Pima County Immigrant Victims of Violence Task Force. The Task Force is actually through the State Office of Rural Health, which is housed in the College of Public Health! As with life, my internship had its challenges and successes. For example, sometimes clients wouldn’t show up to appointments, and some pieces of data went missing. Overall, I am thankful for the opportunity to have interned at the IRC, as it exposed me to what Public Health looks like outside of the classroom.
Finally, my internship led me into a part-time research position! You never know where an internship opportunity will take you. I can’t promise that your internship experience will lead to a job, but if you enjoy your internship, make it known to the staff. You may have to endure some challenging times and struggle to learn all that is needed, but it’s likely that your efforts will be recognized.
To learn more about volunteering or interning at the IRC in Tucson, you can check out their website.