Internships are a part of the ordinary college experience. When Brendan Hanson received a phone call from a uniformed service officer offering a U.S. Public Health Service internship, he had no idea he would get the extraordinary experience of becoming a commissioned officer, monitoring an entire city for safety standards, and investigating a viral disease.
Hanson, a junior in the Environmental, Safety & Occupational Health Management (ESOH) Program at the University of Findlay, learned about the Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (JRCOSTEP) through associate professor of the ESOH program, Tim Murphy, Ph.D. “Dr. Murphy likes to send out emails about internship opportunities, and this JRCOSTEP opportunity for the U.S. Public Health Service came up,” said Hanson.
Students participating in JRCOSTEP are trained to work in the same federal agencies and programs as active duty commissioned corps officers. Assignments can vary from 31 to 120 days. Applicants are from a variety of programs, including environmental health, pharmacy, engineering and nursing. To be considered for this type of internship, the applicate must be enrolled in an accredited program. The University of Findlay is the only program in the United States that has accreditation by the Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) and the American Board of Engineering Technology Applied Science Commission (ABET).
“I passed the initial screening and ended up getting a lot of applications along with a lot of forms. It’s a federal government job, so there’s going to be a lot of paperwork,” said Hanson. When the paperwork was submitted Hanson’s name went into a candidate pool to be selected from a number of different federal agencies offering a JRCOSTEP. Hanson was selected by the Indian Health Service to serve as a commissioned officer for the Gallup Indian Medical Center (GIMC) which is a 99-bed hospital in Gallup, New Mexico, on the border of the Navajo Nation.
It was a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ environmental safety internship. Hanson started his first month by training and hosting rabies clinics for the chapter houses on the reservation, helping stem a disease endemic to the area. The second month was comprised of a variety of health and safety inspections such as retail inspections involving checking for loose or faulty wiring, water inspections to make sure the water reached hot temperatures in order to kill bacteria when washing or cleaning and hospital inspections for proper ventilation and power systems.
While most ESOH activities involve a certain amount of risk, Hanson faced a serious disease in the last month of his internship. Hantavirus is a disease that particularly effects the southwest region of the United States. It presents itself with cold and flu-like symptoms making it difficult to diagnose, resulting in a 36 percent fatality rate. The virus stores itself in Deer Mice feces, making it harmless to humans unless aerosolized but deadly once it goes airborne through methods of sweeping or cleaning.
When a group of children living in the same home all presented signs of the illness simultaneously, a team including Hanson went into the home to confirm that Hantavirus was the cause. Geared up in a full-length white body suit, goggles and facemasks, the crew went in, searched for indicative signs and confirmed that it was indeed the deadly virus. From there, they were able to assist the family in cleaning the causes of the disease, making recommendations of using wet methods to prevent the virus from aerating and using bleaching solutions to fully eradicate it.
Though he participated in a multitude of experiences, Hanson’s favorite part of the internship didn’t involve taking samples, giving shots, or investigating diseases. Updating and modernizing public presentations on food handling, the plague and Hantavirus was where he felt like he made an abiding difference. After giving a presentation to 120 faculty members of a local school, a number of teachers came up to him requesting the slideshow to give to their students.
“It felt really good knowing I made a big difference on the reservation by educating people because in the end, the biggest thing you could do to improve public health is to improve the education of the populace that you’re trying to serve,” Hanson said.
Hanson is currently back at Findlay completing his junior year coursework. He is planning to continue on the ESOH path and will apply for another JRCOSTEP for the 2018 summer.