Since the last time I blogged, my practicum has come to an end, I’ve departed Orlando, and am currently in Chicago amidst the holidays. I greatly enjoyed my times at the Orange County Health Department and relished all the opportunities and professional exposure I had to the broad field of public health. Having been to Disney World a couple of times when I was younger, Orlando always seemed like one cohesive, amusement park. However this internship, if nothing else, opened my eyes to the darker, less flattering and unmarketable sides of the city; Orlando was much more than simply the haven of Mickey and Minnie.
In the latter half of my practicum, I was able to shadow environmental specialists who inspected public restaurants and pools, help out a public health nurse practitioner in conducting hepatitis prevention programs at a methadone clinic, work with the emergency operations department in creating locations of treatment dispensing in the case of an emergency biological threat, and learned much about health disparities in Florida from the community health department. It’s been a rewarding experience, putting public health into action and from these collective experiences, I’ve had time to reach many conclusions on what I’ve learned.
Never take public health for granted
While following around the food inspector on the University of Central Florida’s campus, I became nostalgic for college–but not for the food. One particular eatery we went to had undated produce within their refrigerators. A cook coughed onto her hands and proceeded to prepare food without exchanging gloves or washing her hands. The meat slicer was not properly cleaned, as it had dried up particles all around it. The restaurant, needless to say, was issued many citations and deemed unsuitable and a re-inspection was issued.
I also had the chance to go to one of the Disney World resorts with an environmental specialist who was conducting pool inspections. We checked up on a pool that had to be closed down for human fecal contamination. Another pool in a different location had borderline levels of adequate chlorine. It all seems petty sometimes. Commercial vendors often belch forth hatred and spew ill-will towards inspectors. However, these public health officials are working for the benefit of everyone. Public health isn’t ever just one-sided. It is in the relentless bookkeeping of what may seem like petty infractions and minor improprieties that so many of us can afford the luxury of having a peace of mind when jumping in a pool or eating out a restaurant. People may scoff at the rudeness or brashness of these inspectors, anticipating them as they would the inception of a black, thunderous clouds, but the truth is, without them, our daily activities are hopeless.On the other hand, in a world of litigation and lawsuits, public health also protects the interests of those providing public services.
Always try to empathize
It doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading my blog that I’m able to expatiate upon the benefits public health. As someone dedicated to providing public health, I have a hard time being able to step into the shoes of those on the frontlines receiving those very services. I found this out as I was at a methadone clinic trying to sign patients up for the first of three hepatitis vaccine series. I kept thinking who wouldn’t sign up for this free opportunity, especially patients that pose as high-risk individuals.
And then I met the patients: fragile, meek, struggling. It was a crisp, windy day in Orlando, however, something told me it had no correlation to the long-sleeved apparel everyone donned. One female patient came up to me and became apprehensive over the needles used in the vaccination. That’s when it all clicked. These patients were on the verge of a constant battle to refrain from straying on a path free from heroin and other drug abuse. Any chances of relapse had to be considered including the chance that being injected may elicit unrepressed urges or fears. Instead of thinking “why wouldn’t anyone take this opportunity,” it is just as vital that public health officials obsess with the inaction taking place as well and the reasons for it.
Prepare as if there is no tomorrow
Public health is one of those fields in which entire occupations and buildings are resurrected all in preparation for an event that one hopes never happens. Orlando has a population of 2 million people in its metropolitan area and thus, must be ready to issue prophylaxis in the case of a major biological threat is released into the city. What’s more, prophylaxis for threats such as anthrax and tularemia must be issued within a certain number of days or hours after initial exposure for it to be useful. Treating 2 million people in a matter of days and/or hours is no easy task. Thus the emergency operations unit that I worked with set up different treatment dispensing sites all over the city. However, designating sites is not enough. I was able to see firsthand the warehouse in which all possible materials needed were stored. From hundreds of boxes of latex gloves and first aid kits to chairs, traffic cones, and tents to emergency vehicles, the warehouse looks almost like a ghost town as the public health departments hopes these items never come into use. Better to be provident than to be sorry later.