Where Science and Public Health Meet Policy: My Internship Experience with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BS Sept 1 2015 PSurio

By: Priyanka Surio, Master’s in Public Health, GWU, 2016

When I first reached out to the CDC Washington office last year for an informational interview about their role in public health policy, I never imagined I would be interning and conducting my practicum project on the intersection of prescription drug abuse with HIV and viral Hepatitis transmission. Since day one, I was immediately exposed to the impressive cadre of diverse individuals who work in CDC’s Washington office. Each of the staff have a portfolio of different centers within CDC with whom they communicate to ensure the advancement of public health activities through a robust policy strategy that involves Members of Congress, partner organizations, community stakeholder groups, and other agencies. In my time, I’ve strengthened key components that will continue to solidify my training as a public health professional as I complete my Master of Public Health degree at the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University.

My professional network has continued to expand at an exponential rate throughout the internship as I was able to meet with and talk to representatives from local health departments, the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), and the Office of the Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I also had the opportunity to engage community organizations, such as the Harm Reduction Coalition and National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, about what they were doing to combat prescription drug abuse and the concurrent epidemic of HIV/viral hepatitis infection. These interactions were extremely valuable as I compiled a report of findings for my practicum that would explore best practices in the overall public health approach to combatting prescription drug abuse and HIV/viral hepatitis transmission.

Additional projects that I’ve had an opportunity to work on throughout my time include, contributing to the weekly Washington policy updates to CDC, contributing sections to the Partners newsletter that CDC disseminates to its network of partner organizations, attending various congressional or agency events of interest to CDC, preparing for congressional hearings, performing data entry for all congressional correspondence for 2015 that is addressed to CDC, synthesizing agency wide proposals for legislation, coordinating the presentation of CDC leadership from the Division of Viral Hepatitis during a congressional briefing, participating in World Hepatitis Day observances and a Hepatitis Policy meeting with the Director of the Division of Viral Hepatitis, and monitoring for opportunities to assist staff with projects.

While the end of my project and internship has been bittersweet, I have learned more about CDC’s role in navigating the health policy climate of D.C. and how to analyze data about a public health epidemic of concern for both CDC and Congress. I’ve garnered additional knowledge of pertinent stakeholders in the community and federal government that will be value-adding in my current full-time position as a Healthcare Legislative Analyst working on a diverse portfolio inclusive of viral hepatitis. Finally, I am eternally grateful for the network I have developed which has led to several positive conversations regarding future career opportunities in public health.