March 2, 2016
By Eliza Mellion
Lauren da Fonte ’16 is currently a senior majoring in Public Health Sciences. While a student at UMass Amherst, Lauren has held an impressive variety of volunteer, internship, and work positions, including being a Peer Health Educator for the Center for Health Promotion, Coordinator of UMass Medical Reserve Corps, Campus Ambassador for the Peace Corps, and a summer intern with both the Putnam County Department of Health and Global Health Corps in New York City. We asked Lauren a few questions to learn more about her experiences and sought her advice to other students seeking careers in Public Health.
Why did you choose to major in Public Health, and what do you enjoy most about it?
I have always been interested in health and helping people, but knew I didn’t want to become a doctor. After taking Professor Daniel Gerber's Public Health 160 course (My Body, My Health) I realized how many different ways there was to be involved in health and healthcare without being a doctor, and I knew Public Health was the career option I had been looking for.
I most enjoy the variability that comes with Public Health. Everyone always says you can do anything with a Public Health degree and that is completely true: Whether I decide I want to be advocating for universal healthcare, running a non-profit, or becoming a hospital administrator, I can use my public health degree to get me there.
What student field experiences have you had within public health?
Here at UMass I've been involved in tons of amazing public health work and activities including being the Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator for the past two years, where I plan public health and emergency preparedness-focused events and trainings. Last year I was a Peer Health Educator for the Center for Health Promotion focusing on sexual health, and this year I am a Campus Ambassador for the Peace Corps. I am also an RA where I have continuously worked with groups on campus to promote health and wellness in my building.
This past summer I interned for a Global Health non-profit in New York City, Global Health Corps, that focuses on health equity and health as a human right. This internship allowed me to interact and learn from public health professionals from around the world. The summer before that I worked with a department of health as well as a community health center that specifically worked with non-English speaking immigrants to the U.S.
What have you learned from your public health work and experiences?
In my experiences at a Department of Health and community center, I learned how to analyze epidemiological information, create surveys, and write grants proposals, and also gained skills in program and event planning.
At Global Health Corps I got to become more acquainted with how a non-profit runs and how to make it more successful. I learned the different ways that other countries look at and think about health as well as the differences in healthcare systems around the world specifically in Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, and Zambia. I think understanding that much of the work necessary to make a non-profit successful is "un-glamorous" was a huge benefit and eye-opening experience for me.
Much of running a non-profit involves work that may never get recognized or credit, like efforts to make an event successful, increase donations, or solve an immediate problem. Yet, I’ve learned that this work is still just as necessary as on-the front line work to treat HIV, prevent chronic illness, or advocate for abortion services access.
Through all my experiences I have learned that there is so much important work that needs to be done for public health that involves "behind the scenes" administration work—work I have discovered that I love to do.
How did you find your field placements?
I found my internships and experiences through several ways including through the job site Indeed, recommendations from previous volunteer positions, contacting various departments of health, and reading the Peace Corps newsletter.
What is your advice to current students?
My biggest advice for public health students is to get involved as early as possible in their college career and try to work in and experience as many possible aspects of public health as they can. There is so much that can be done with a public health degree and internships and volunteering are the best way I have found to discover what you are passionate about.
What are yours plans for the future?
My plans for the future are still not totally set, but I am looking into working for a philanthropic foundation, and am applying to the Peace Corps and a Public Health Associate Program Fellowship with the CDC.