PIH Intern Blog: Lessons from Past Interns
By Allie Broas, IHSJ Intern
Each summer, interns for PIH's Institute for Health and Social Justice (IHSJ) get an inside look at how PIH operates, and hands-on experience working with PIH programs. This blog post is part of an on-going series following their experiences this summer, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Partners In Health.
As we settle into our internships at Partners In Health, many of us wonder how we will apply the lessons we’ve learned thus far to real world experiences. This internship exposes us to the expansive realm of possibilities for young minds interested in public and global health, and soon we will join a talented group of internship alumni who have made their mark outside the walls of PIH. In attempt to shed light on the intern experience, I spoke to four past interns about how their time at PIH influenced them in their work today.
Peter Luckow, a 2007 intern, spent his summer at PIH researching foundations and corporate giving programs as the Development Research Intern. He co-founded the student organization GlobeMed and now works for Tiyatien Health, a Liberian partner organization of Partners In Health.
A 2008 intern, Isaac Kastenbaum, worked with the Electronic Medical Records Team to develop electronic forms for use in Rwanda and to test forms and systems for use throughout PIH’s clinics. He now works at PACT, PIH’s domestic project focused on integrating CHWs into domestic healthcare delivery.
Maggie Sullivan spent her 2009 internship gathering clinical and educational resources for nurses in Haiti to advance PIH’s nursing initiatives. She is now a family nurse practitioner in Boston.
Kanu Tewari, a 2010 communications intern, covered a range of research projects while preparing materials for the Haiti earthquake Six Month Report, E-Bulletin, blog, and website. She is currently a student at Tufts University.
How has your PIH internship experience influenced the work you are doing today?
Peter: Well, everything that I’ve done has been heavily influenced and shaped by my internship with PIH. I stay actively involved with GlobeMed; all of the lessons I learned during my internship worked their way into my work with GlobeMed and its grounding as an organization. I now work for Tiyatien Health, which is a PIH-supported project in Liberia. All of the work that I’m doing on a weekly basis has been influenced by continuous conversations I have with my mentors at PIH and the advising that the PIH team gives our organization. Every part of PIH continues to have a day-to-day impact on my life and I think it always will.
Isaac: While at Partners In Health, I worked on the Medical Informatics team, and being a part of that community was extremely inspiring and influential for me. Seeing such great minds and resources coming together and coordinating so well to make things happen was so rewarding; it is what drew me to PACT and is still a large part of my work today.
Maggie: I'm fortunate to have helped get a global health online nursing community off the ground when I was an intern, so I continue to co-moderate that. What I learned at PIH helps me to put my work in an historical, global and economic context.
What first interested you in Partners In Health?
Maggie: I think my very first interest in PIH was about 10 years ago when I was in nursing school at UCSF. Every year in the Bay Area there's a global health conference and I heard Paul Farmer speak at Stanford. By that time I had already spent several summers in Mexico and Paraguay, volunteering with Amigos de las Americas on local public health projects. I listened to Paul Farmer's talk and the content of what he said not only rang very true to me, but the way in which he delivered the presentation was so compelling. I remember sitting in the small auditorium thinking, "this is what it's about for me.”
Kanu: I grew up in Cairo, Egypt, and always had an interest in global health but I was never sure how to go about pursuing these interests until my undergraduate experience. When I read Mountains Beyond Mountains in a community health class at Tufts, I began to follow the work of Partners In Health. I kept in touch with what was going on through the earthquake in Haiti and seeing PIH in the news only furthered my interest and eventually prompted me to apply for the internship. Growing up in the East, I was always intrigued by the distribution of healthcare, and coming to the West for my education, I got to see viewpoints from both sides of the world. Through following Partners In Health, I learned the feasibility of making healthcare a basic right for everyone.
Peter: I first became interested in the intersection of global health and university student engagement as a freshman at Northwestern University in 2005. I banded together with other students to think of building up an organization called GlobeMed, and, while researching health organizations, we quickly found the Partners In Health website. I was immediately impressed by the fundamental separation between PIH and the majority of international health organizations — PIH has a deep and profound grounding in social justice, not just as a fundraising lexicon, but at the heart of every decision that PIH makes and their rationale for doing their work in the first place. The more we read about PIH, the more we were electrically drawn to their work, and I knew then I needed to get involved and contribute in any way I could.
What was the most inspiring/influential moment of your internship?
Kanu: One that I particularly remember was my visit to the Right to Health Care patients at a time when I was writing a story about a mother/daughter pair who had come from Haiti after the earthquake to receive treatment. It was truly one of the most important experiences I had all summer because I had been writing about them for months and being able to see them firsthand in the RHC environment was so moving; getting to know patients and hear how greatly they valued the care they were receiving was one experience that totally affirmed my decision to intern at PIH.
Isaac: Definitely our visit to PACT project. I remember meeting with Heidi and other staff and learning how the PIH models abroad were being applied in the US, specifically here in Boston. It was one of, if not the most inspiring moments during my internship because this was the population and system that I had my eyes on working with from the start; I wanted to work with issues at home and with a transformative project like PACT. The visit to PACT led me to apply to work there shortly after.
What is your advice for others looking to enter the global health/public health field?
Isaac: I think I would say that you don’t have to be at the most transformative, well-known organization to get the experience you need to succeed in this field. Public health is not distinct — the skills you’ll gain in any industry will be extremely applicable in solving healthcare issues. Healthcare has a lot to learn from the advances of other industries — be the vehicle for that inter-industry collaboration. Also, don’t start a nonprofit; join an existing one and build capacity.
Peter: One of the things that has been most influential in my past is the constant reflection and conversations that I had as a high school student. I embedded myself at an early stage in communities of concern and had the courage to ask the tough questions about the world that we live in. I was constantly asking what I could do about the problems in our world; through learning and moral grounding, I found myself catapulted down a life dedicated to global health. It was all of this that prepared me with a skill set to succeed in this path.
Maggie: For me it's always been - follow your heart. If your heart is in business or finance, then make money doing that and become a committed donor. If your heart is in coordinating and facilitating the work, then do your best at that. My heart is in working directly with people who are impoverished, both here in the US and in Mexico/Central America. I'm a family nurse practitioner with Boston Health Care for the Homeless — I consider this work to be just as much a part of global and public health as when I work in other countries.
Allie Broas is a summer intern for PIH's Institute for Health and Social Justice (IHSJ). She is working with PIH's Communications Team. Check out more blog posts from and about IHSJ interns.