Published on December 19, 2017 by Sarah Waller  
public health students

Samford University’s School of Public Health works to equip its students with the knowledge and experience to address the profound health challenges facing the world today. Recently, three Samford students had the opportunity to intern with the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH), providing them first-hand experience in the public health sector. 

Each student is at a different stage in their education. Hunter Johnston is a second year pharmacy student pursuing a coordinated degree, combining his Doctor of Pharmacy with a Master of Public Health. Kelsey Rowe is a senior public health major and Grace Okoro is in her second year of the Master of Public Health program. 

While their internships took place within the same organization, their experiences were completely different, which further demonstrates the vast array of opportunities that lie within public health. 

It was Johnston’s second summer working with JCDH’s Department of Preparedness and Response. “When I took this internship, they told me I would never be bored, and it was true,” Johnston said. 

Johnston has been able to see first-hand the county’s work in practicing its emergency preparedness plans. “We did one just today with the Jefferson County Healthcare Coalition. It was a table top exercise for pandemic influenza,” Johnston said. 

As Johnston pursues a dual degree, the internship has exposed him to experiences that engage both of his fields of study. “Because of my pharmacy background, I’ve been able to pack some of the naloxone kits and talk with pharmacy residents working at the health department,” he said. 

But what has surprised Johnston the most is the role JCDH plays in providing clinical services for county residents. “I didn’t realize how many people actually come to the health department for clinical services,” Johnston said. “I’ll confess, I thought it was just a government building.” 

Rowe had the opposite perspective coming into the summer. “I always thought the health department just provided health services; people come to see a doctor or a nurse. I now know that the career opportunities here are much greater,” she said.

Rowe worked in JCDH’s Division of Clinical Services, contributing to the work of managing patient inflow. She processed data relating to patients enrolled in Medicaid and corresponded with individuals who have been long-lapsed or no longer qualify. 

“This work is done to guarantee that people who actually need care from the health department can receive it,” Rowe said. 

Her biggest take away from the summer is learning about all of the different roles within the public health sector. “Public health is a culmination of a lot of people coming together. Everyone plays an important role,” she said. 

Okoro agrees. After spending the summer working for the Department of Finance and Administration, she has seen what it takes behind the scenes to care for JCDH’s employees.

“My supervisor is the human resources manager, and we work on multiple projects that involve interdisciplinary groups,” Okoro said. “JCDH has four locations, which has given me the opportunity to network and meet people in variety of roles.” 

Okoro’s main project was assisting in the management and correspondence for JCHD’s employee wellness programs. 

“Public health is about meeting people where they are. It’s learning about how they live, work, and play in order to be effective in meeting their needs,” Okoro said. “This internship has made it very clear to me that I’m in the right line of work. I’m doing something that I’m good at, and I feel passionate about it.” 

Both Okoro and Rowe continued to work with JCDH through the fall.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.