Summer Internship in Tanjore

The ICTPH Global Internship Program (GIP) launched this past June 2010 with our first intern, Prateek Kumar Jain, from IIT-Kharagpur, who proved to be an outstanding addition to our team throughout the summer.  Here, Prateek shares with us his orientation into the GIP program and his experiences in Chennai and Tanjore where he worked on the Electronic Health Record (EHR) project at ICTPH.

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by Prateek Kumar Jain, ICTPH GIP Intern 2010

In India, Chennai is not one of the most ideal of destinations to spend your summers, due to the hot weather, and not many of my friends opted for a summer internship here. Therefore, they did not leave any stone unturned in making me realize how bad my decision was to intern in Chennai, at least in regards to the high temperatures I would be facing. With all these fears in my mind, I left IIT Kharagpur and arrived in Chennai. My arrival coincided with cyclone Laila and the city welcomed me with some of the most pleasant weather it has seen over the last few years. For a change, the weather was cool and soothing rather than its usual hot and humid, which made me think that the cosmos was bending its rules to make my stay here comfortable, but with a warning to not to get too used to it!

On my first day in ICTPH I was briefed about the organisation, its research methodologies, technologies and its vision towards delivering quality public healthcare services. I had read a lot about the organisation through their website, but still was fascinated to learn that some of the best minds in the country and abroad were working hard to serve the poor and underserved population of India residing in villages. I was honoured by the fact that I was given an opportunity to make a contribution towards this noble goal. I was introduced to EHR – Electronic Health Record, a web-based system used to record patients health related information and also helped nurses in diagnosing diseases and delivering health care. It is interesting to point out here, that even the best of hospitals in India are not equipped with such an IT system, while it is being used in clinics in rural India with the support of ICTPH. The users of EHR are the nurses working in Rural Micro Health Clinic (RMHC) in villages of Tanjore district, Tamil Nadu. My mentor encouraged me to read more about EHRs around the world and their function and then decide about the work I would like to do. So I took a week to review the literature on EHR. Little did I know that over the next few weeks, I would be exposed to a great deal of knowledge about overall public healthcare delivery that would throw me right into developing the EHR project in a hands-on approach in the field.

ICTPH is a cohort of intelligent and academic researchers and the advantage of working with such people is that they love to share their knowledge and equally respect your inputs. Instead of being viewed as “just an intern” with an engineering background, I was invited to all the presentations and meetings of different teams under the organisation. I was introduced to epidemiology, health interventions, the concept of Community Health Workers (CHWs), health financing etc.

I even got an opportunity to attend the board meeting of the organisation in Tanjore and see how the organisation works from that perspective. Travelling to Tanjore is an exciting journey in itself and a whole blog can be written just about that, but I would save that for someone else.  My next few days were a treat in itself because I got an opportunity to meet personalities like Dr. R.A. Mashelkar and Dr. Nachiket Mor.  Just sharing the same room with these individuals was an exposure to various ideas and progressive thinking in the field of healthcare and innovation.

In Tanjore, I also visited the RMHC and interacted with the team of nurses, field coordinators, and community health workers and, trust me, I have never seen people who are so dedicated and enthusiastic about their work! These are the people who are responsible for the change ICTPH aims to bring in public health and they are more than committed to it. I spent several days interacting with the nurses and taking their feedback on EHR and its uses, as they are the primary end users. At the closing of my visit to Tanjore and based upon my interactions with the nurses and staff members, I had gained enough knowledge to make project-related decisions about the objectives of my work.

My project’s aim was to improve the usability of EHR and this required me to interact a great deal with end users of EHR and that meant I had to travel to Tanjore frequently and stay there for few weeks. It has been a fun ride. Not a single day has passed during my internship when I have not been excited about my work every day and, at the cost of sounding boastful, I have never been this productive. In the beginning, I was not very sure about my summer internship in Chennai, but now I know I am loving it!

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