Summer Internship at ICTPH

By Subhalakshmi Ganguly (AVP, ICTPH; Coordinator, GIP Program)

When you think of a summer internship, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Do you envision a fresh-faced young adult making photocopies or making phone calls or, perhaps even, making coffee? These are the daunting tasks that are faced by millions of undergraduate and graduate students as they embark on their seasonal job assignments during summer holidays from colleges and universities all over the world. Yet many of these hardworking students still sign up in the hopes of learning some skill set or perhaps even gaining organizational / industry knowledge and experience in their temporary stints.

At ICTPH, the Global Internship Program (GIP) evolved out of developing partnerships with universities and research institutions last summer. Several promising students came to our organization through various channels and were able to work on a slew of research projects. For this summer’s program, however, we wanted a more structured program that was planned and yielded a common experience for the entire group of interns.

This year’s program launched last December 2009 with an invitation that targeted top-ranked universities in India and the US, a comprehensive application process, an interview and selection process that was competitive and holistically considered the candidate’s education, work experiences and future research goals. Before most of the interns arrived in Chennai in June and July, mentors were assigned from the ICTPH staff to oversee research projects that ranged from developing the Electronic Health Record (EHR) system to designing protocols for the Rural Micro Health Clinics (RMHC) to conducting diarrhoea surveys in rural villages in Tanjore. Research teams consisting of mentors and interns then began exploratory literature reviews of individual projects and began to build context for the work that would be done in rural Tamil Nadu.

This summer, our GIP interns came from an outstanding pool of students in top ranked public health and graduate and undergraduate programs all over the world. Prateek Kumar Jain (read about his GIP experiences here) is a dual-degree candidate from IIT-Kharagpur with an engineering and business background. Ryan Cook, a graduate student from the University of Washington in St. Louis, who is also in a joint-degree program (completing his MSW and MPH degrees) had experience working as an urban Community Health Worker through a program in St. Louis called HealthStreet and spoke fluent Korean from his experiences working as a teacher and living in South Korea. And Kelli Clonts is an undergraduate architecture and urban planning student from MIT who had experience working in Sierra Leone, Guatemala, Israel and Jamaica. These are just a few of the dozen interns who ICTPH was lucky to work with this summer – all have outstanding backgrounds and bought unique talents to the work they did at ICTPH.

The program’s first week and last week were spent in Chennai, respectively during sessions for orientation and closing week. GIP orientation constituted sessions for the interns, delivered by staff such as Dr. Zeena Johar (President, ICTPH), Dr. Ravikumar Chockalingam (Advisor, ICTPH) and Dr. Rajaratnam Abel (Consultant, ICTPH) that focused on public health issues, health financing, community health worker programs and the organizational work being done by ICTPH in rural villages in Tanjore. Additionally, orientation also involved the interns presenting their summer plans and objectives to our executive and advisory team.

For the majority of the time, most of the 12 GIP interns spent their summer living and working in the ICTPH office and guesthouse in Tanjore. Field visits to the RMHC in Alakkudi, Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in Alakkudi and Karambayam, as well as to homes in both of these villages were made by all the interns over the summer. This enabled the entire team to get a unique understanding of the work that ICTPH is doing through its partnership with SughaVazhvu, as well as gain understanding of the field of rural healthcare in the development context that is rural Tamil Nadu. The access to contextual knowledge helped to direct the work that they did independently and with their mentors. Along the way, there were many new living experiences and challenges they encountered – language and cultural barriers, summer temperatures in Tamil Nadu, the delicious but sometimes monotonous food, new friendships and the overall new experience of working and living in rural India. The feedback I got from all the interns throughout the summer reflected the group’s outstanding flexibility, open-mindedness and willingness to learn constantly on the job.

GIP Closing in Chennai saw the interns attending a 2-day social network analysis workshop at IIT-Madras Research Park, led by Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a visiting professor from Washington University in St. Louis; finish up independent work on papers and project proposals; and attend a closing dinner where each intern presented the summary of the work they had done over the summer. Our next step in closing GIP 2010 is in taking the project work and proposals designed by each intern and summarizing them into our GIP Journal and developing continuing plans for how we utilize and leverage the knowledge gained this summer into our active projects, training and fieldwork . We are hoping you will visit our website next month and read about the individual projects that each intern worked on!

As this summer progressed, we began to realize that last year’s GIP 2009 Journal yielded articles that were academic in nature – a great starting point where our organization and the interns who were working with us took the opportunity to survey the field and report on the existing research in public health in rural India. Some of the work included insights and experiences taken directly from the field, but the majority of the articles were evidence-seeking projects that were highly useful for building knowledge for our organization. This year’s internship projects focused on further developing projects already in progress, such as the EHR system, or designing proposals and writing reports on best practices for treating patients with a variety of illnesses. This suggests a natural evolution underway for our summer internship program that goes hand-in-hand with the evolution of our organizational efforts at ICTPH. Next year, we will be revisiting the projects that were developed this summer and look into the potential for monitoring and evaluating the work we have launched in Tanjore.

If you know of any outstanding students who would like to serve in a summer internship that involves active learning on the job, participating in organizational meetings and trainings, working with a diverse staff in Chennai and Tanjore, field visits to government-run and private clinics and home visits to rural Indian communities, please send them my way (!

I promise you they will not be making photocopies, phone calls or coffee next summer!

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