Internships are a huge part of any career in medicine or healthcare, which is why public health internships overseas are quite common. While you can complete a public health internship at home, going abroad is likely to challenge you in unique ways.
Most public health internships are based in countries where public health is a major problem. These countries are often understaffed and face huge health issues, so the influx of interns can help them provide better care and education. You get valuable work experience, and they get the support they need to make their communities healthier.
Of course, it’s not all about the hard work. Your internship will bring you face-to-face with fascinating culture, beautiful scenery, and incredible people. Helping these people live better, longer lives will be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have.
The most common type of public health internship will have you working in a healthcare facility, such as a public clinic or hospital. While placements in cities do exist, rural communities tend to be the ones most in need of extra staff.
Depending on your level of medical experience and knowledge, you will either be delivering hands-on medical attention, assisting the local staff, or helping with admin and other background roles.
Another common aspect of public health internships is education. In this type of internship, you will design and deliver programs that teach vulnerable groups about how to prevent common illnesses. Many of these programs take place in schools, but many are targeted towards adults, such as in the case of HIV/AIDS education.
Most public health issues in developing countries are due to poor sanitation and infrastructure. Some internships are about tackling the issue at the source, supporting the organizations working to improve these areas.
Where to Go
Public health is a crucial matter in every country in the world, but there are areas where more work is needed. These tend to be developing countries with poor sanitation and lacking public health facilities, where interns can make the most difference.
Generally speaking, African countries are some of the most underprivileged when it comes to public health. Tanzania combines a high level of need for public health volunteering with a high number of programs for interns and volunteers. Areas that require particular focus include HIV prevention and education, treating malaria, and improving life expectancy for young children.
Cambodia has been steadily improving its health initiatives for the past two decades. This means that, while there is much to do, there are many organizations in place to do it. One of the biggest focuses is bringing healthcare to remote rural communities, including education and treatment for common diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.
Many countries in Central America still suffer from poor sanitation and infrastructure, as well as an understaffed health sector. The small country of Belize is one of these. While there is public healthcare available, rural areas are particularly underserved in terms of healthcare facilities. Specific concerns include malaria, HIV/AIDS, and cholera.
Not all public health internships are based in developing countries. If you want to intern overseas but would like to continue working within a developed, Western healthcare system, Germany provides some excellent opportunities. It is a particularly good place to go if your interests are academic since they perform some of the best medical research in the world.
Planning Your Trip
Most people studying a health or medical subject will have to undertake an internship as part of their study. In these cases, you will get support from your university. Some charities also organize internships, or you could reach out to organizations directly. If you do this, prepare to do more of the planning yourself in terms of visas, housing, and travel arrangements.
How to Choose a Public Health Internship
Most people complete public health internships as part of their studies or as a start to their career in the sector. In this case, look for a public health internship that aligns itself with your long-term career goals. You can search for internships focused on specific illnesses, communities, or types of workplaces like rural clinics, hospitals, or schools.
You can contribute to public health with no medical experience. Look for admin positions in roles like marketing or education projects with vulnerable groups like women and children.
Health & Safety
As you can imagine, working in public health may expose you to some dangerous illnesses. You may have to live and work in areas with poor sanitation or be exposed to contagious diseases. Your host organization will let you know of any specific precautions you need to take, such as vaccinations, medications, and protective equipment.
Other Need To Know
While some public health internships are paid, this is relatively rare. In most cases, you will be working on a voluntary basis in return for room and board.
Make sure you find out as much as you can about your placement before heading out. Ask about the type of housing you will be placed in -- it can be anything from secure gated flats to very basic rural accommodation -- and the number of hours you will be expected to work.