By Valentina Moreno ’22
Funding Source: Whitehead Internship Program
Somehow in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic and a border-transcending civil movement, HCIF managed to make my summer experience incredibly fulfilling. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for an organization that adopted me as soon as I got on my first zoom call. The pandemic forced me to move to the UK at the start of the summer where I worked remotely for the majority of my internship. I was separated from my coworkers in a very literal geographic sense and distanced by my drastic time zone difference. Nevertheless, I have never encountered a more welcoming and inspiring group of individuals. If HCIF has taught me anything, it is that there is no need to compromise on what you value in a job. I never had to sacrifice mission and social justice for intellectual rigor and I never had to give up my own mental health and happiness to do well at my job. Essentially, I learned that even as an intern who has yet to graduate, I have access to incredible opportunities. To any future Whitehead applicant, I guarantee that an internship at HCIF (even a remote one) will result in unparalleled personal and professional growth.
Prefacing a more detailed account of my time at HCIF, I want to begin by acknowledging the exceptional mentorship of Claudette Fonshell. Claudette is in charge of overseeing Whitehead interns, she continuously made me feel included, comfortable, and challenged by the work I was assigned. I never felt lost or overwhelmed during my internship in large part due to her sustained attention and her careful supervision. Claudette was not alone in her efforts to make my internship experience meaningful; every member of the HCIF staff showed me kindness and attentiveness. The organization’s size is incredibly conducive to a friendly and collaborative work environment. Over the past couple of months, I have had the immense privilege of getting to know every member of HCIF. At the start of my internship, I had one on one meetings with all staff members; these meetings were invaluable both personally and professionally. As a member of the Clinical Improvement team within HCIF working specifically with the Pennsylvania Urologic Regional Collaborative (PURC) and the Opioid Learning Action Network (LAN), the meetings gave me an opportunity to learn more about the Population Health Team. In addition to gaining insight on the work HCIF oversees, I gained insight on the many diverse career paths possible for individuals working in public health. Every staff member I interacted with had an interesting and unique professional background.
As someone very much in the exploratory phase of my career, I sincerely appreciated getting to not only experience HCIF but also getting to vicariously experience many more opportunities through my conversations with coworkers. My advice to any future HCIF intern, is to absorb whatever you can. My self-proclaimed professional duty this summer was to act as a sponge–dedicated to absorbing all the information I possibly could. I enthusiastically jumped at every opportunity to join a call and simply listen to the conversations taking place. In time, I felt more comfortable contributing to these calls and offering my insight, however, the importance of listening and consuming information cannot be overstated. I would also urge any future intern to be patient with themselves. HCIF is a small organization with an impressive amount of programming. It takes time to get acquainted with all of the projects, practices, physicians, and data abstractors. Not fully understanding how the many components of a project fit together is a natural and necessary part of the internship. Eventually, the pieces fit together, and you develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the work HCIF oversees.
I recognize that my time at HCIF was and is by nature incredibly unconventional. I joined the organization as it transitioned both in leadership and in operation. I witnessed first-hand how the non-profit gracefully shifted from an in-person setting to a fully remote environment. The Opioid Learning Network Action embodies the swift transition HCIF made when forced to operate remotely. Meetings that were formerly in-person shifted to webinars and virtual office hours. Additionally, HCIF recognized the immensity of COVID-19 and adjusted programming accordingly. Instead of operating in spite of the pandemic, HCIF worked closely with partnering practices to address the pandemic directly.
HCIF responded gracefully not only to COVID-19 but also to the civil unrest that ravaged the country. I feel unbelievably lucky to be part of a conscientious organization that commits itself to advancing equity and social justice. During my internship, I joined the Anti-Racism Council (ARC) that formed as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. The council dedicates itself to initiatives that actively combat racism– whether they be through language and education or through critical self-evaluation. Despite the heartbreaking racial injustices that have come to the fore this summer, this group of mission-driven individuals has restored some of my faith in institutional change. I am comforted by the knowledge that beyond my internship there is a team of passionate individuals working tirelessly to promote equity.
To summarize, I could not be more grateful for my Whitehead internship. I have had an, exciting, intellectually stimulating, challenging, and rewarding summer experience thanks to Claudette Fonshell, Elizabeth Owens, Wendy Nickel, Pamela Braun, Susan Choi, Susan Cosgrove, Jibreel Oliver, Kelsey Salazar, Kaynaat Syed, Cassidy Tarullo, and Barbara Cowden. I will miss everyone at HCIF dearly.