The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Notes form the Field: Simone Wien '16

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Rockefeller Center-funded interns reflect on their experiences as part of our "Notes from the Field" series. Click here to read more about the Rockefeller Center's Internships program. To read the entire series, click here.

Student Intern: Simone Wien '16

Internship Organization: Division for Global Migration and Quarantine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Atlanta, GA

How would you describe your employer in one paragraph? What’s the elevator pitch?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the national public health institute of the United States. I work on the Domestic Team for the Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee Health Branch (IMRH) under Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ). DGMQ’s mission is to not only responsible for reducing morbidity and mortality among immigrants, refugees, travelers, expatriates, and other globally mobile populations but to prevent the introduction and transmission, of communicable diseases through regulation, research, preparedness, and response.

What are your specific responsibilities in the organization?
Working for IMRH’s Domestic Team, my job is to work on several projects that relate to US-bound refugees both before and after their arrival to the United States. These projects are trans-disciplinary, and are often a combination of public policy, bioinformatics, science research and testing. 

I am currently working on two projects. The first one is to evaluate the two-decade long travel and immigration ban for HIV positive people born outside of the United States (which was only lifted in 2010) by using BioMosaic, and incredibly dynamic and flexible computer modeling system that was used to help combat the 2003 global SARS epidemic, and the recent 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. It’s a little tricky, because while BioMosaic can report current HIV/AIDS cases, they only apply for countries where an HIV diagnoses is rare, such as China. The second one is to help understand and improve how domestic physicians obtain CDC refugee guidelines that are available online. Although not as glamorous as the aforementioned project, information dissemination and data accessibility are incredibly important, especially when treating refugees who have had a history of physical and mental trauma. We are hoping to present our findings at the American Refugee Health Conference this summer.

How did you feel on the first day of your internship?
The first couple of days were particularly disorienting, because although the work environment is incredibly friendly, before you can technically work at the CDC, you must be cleared by security. For the first two days, I went through metal detectors, scanners, detailed background checks, had my fingerprints taken, documentation of any piercings or tattoos, and a security interview before I got my badge!

What is your favorite part of the internship so far?
My favorite part of the internship thus far has been sitting in on the weeklong Intergovernmental Immigration and Refugee Health Working Group, which is a part of the Five Country Conference (FCC) that consisted of top-level public health and immigration ministers from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which was hosted at the CDC this year. It was a pretty eye-opening experience to see how countries with various (and sometimes conflicting) health immigration policies work together to align public health goals, such as reducing worldwide tuberculosis transmission.

What challenges have you faced so far?
What’s been really challenging is understanding (and navigating) how many federal institutions are sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes even within an organization. What may be a public health concern for the CDC may not be a concern for the Department of Homeland Security, and vice versa. It takes a lot of talking, planning, and compromise in order to make policy changes.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of your internship?
I’ve enjoyed working for the CDC so much that I plan to either continue to work next term, or return to the CDC at a later date. I feel like I am beginning to just grasp what kind of professional diversity is needed for effective public health initiatives. Yes, there are Medical Officers (MDs), but there are also statisticians, computer scientists, health educators, epidemiologists, economists, and the list goes on. I hope to have a better understanding of how these roles contribute to public health.

What have been some practical lessons you've learned in the day-to-day life of your internship?
Try to find out if there are any benefits with working for your organization! The CDC University offers a myriad of lectures, courses and health counseling. I’m currently enrolled in an African-American Health Assessment course, and went to a lecture last week on the adverse effects associated with electronic music festivals, which was given by the Epidemic Intelligence Service.

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