Dispatches from the Field

Hayley Ashbaugh

Hayley Ashbaugh

Hayley Ashbaugh is doctoral student in the Epidemiology department at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Her background is in veterinary medicine and her current research interests are infectious diseases—specifically zoonotic disease from a global health perspective.

Where was your placement site?

My placement site was at the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo which is the National Research Laboratory.

What were your duties and what public health issues were you trying to solve?

The UCLA-DRC Program has many components. Our UCLA-DRC group works on global health projects focused on disease eradication and have more applied research areas as well. At my placement site, I was able to work on a little bit of everything. The lab is planning a large Ebola survivor study that looks at blood samples taken from Ebola survivors or people in areas where Ebola outbreaks have occurred. During my stay in the DRC, I was involved in the planning process of this project and assisted with the logistics of getting laboratory equipment into the DRC. I was also involved in the DRC’s Trypanosomiasis eradication program. The purpose of a component this project was to improve the population data that we had so that we could have a better assessment of the prevalence of the disease.

What was the greatest public health lesson that you learned at your placement site?

In any community in which you work you have to have good relationships with your colleagues and community members or else you will not be able to provide anything of value to the community, which is the ultimate goal of public health work. These relationships are very important--it was not something I learned for the first time in Congo but the importance was magnified when I went to Congo. Extending from this is the need for local infrastructure that is capable of supporting the logistical, communication, and transportation needs of a functioning health system and for promoting effective program implementation. Just having roads that are accessible and being able to reach all parts of the country, which are often necessary components of the data collection process, don't exist in many parts of the DRC. I think that in order to get to the place where we can collaboratively set up projects to make change we have to have cooperation of the government and/or whoever is in the position to provide these things. I walked away finding that although much work can go into planning these projects, if you don't have a multidisciplinary team and community support you aren't going to be as effective as you could be.

What was your favorite memory while you were at your placement site?

My first favorite memory was visiting the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary near Kinshasa – as a veterinarian, interacting with these incredible animals was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Another favorite memory was talking through public health challenges with our Congolese team members. Sometimes we would examine or informally evaluate the way a data collection system was set up or how we obtained surveillance information. Sometimes you look at the big picture and see these unusual trends that are difficult to explain. I really enjoyed the process of both trying to think through them myself and talking with my team members and figuring out why things work the way they do.

Could you describe the skills that you gained while pursuing your degree and how did you apply these skills to your placement site?

Skills from biostatistics and epidemiology coursework certainly helped when examining data, particularly in identifying problems that we had with our data or trying to plan future studies. We had some involvement in a measles outbreak, and so epidemiology coursework helped in designing a case-control study scenario.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in going on an international placement site?

I would advise them to think about what they want to get out the experience when they are choosing a placement site because sites do vary. Some sites will allow a more defined use of particular skills or more defined area of study than other sites. In the DRC, a lot of flexibility and adaptability is needed to support projects that might be outside of a student’s area of expertise. Students that enjoy this type of variety and challenge can flourish in a placement site such as DRC. There’s also nothing wrong with not knowing exactly what you want at the outset as long as you are open and committed to the placement site. 


Roz Fanaieyan

Roz Fanaieyan

Roz Fanaieyan is a MPH student in the Community Health Sciences department. Her research interests include global health, health policy (concerning population change), chronic diseases related to physical activity and nutrition, health issues among children and adolescents.

Where was your placement site?

Lusaka, Zambia

Describe the public health issue you were trying to solve and/or solved?

Access to contraceptives among those living in rural Zambia

What was the greatest public health lesson that you learned?

Education is key—even if people have access to health resources, it’s important to address cultural beliefs and misconceptions associated with those resources. Furthermore, increasing access to these health resources comes with an understanding of the current situation and cultural climate regarding that health issue.

What was your favorite memory?

Getting to interact with the kids in the rural areas, they were always so happy to see my friends and I and eager to play. I also was able to visit an orphanage in Lusaka, which was both heart breaking and heart-warming. These kids are so deprived of love and attention that they latched on to us from the moment we walked in.

Describe the skills that you gained in your advanced degree program and how you applied these skills to your placement site

I briefly learned in class how to code data, and this was a skill I used frequently at my placement site.

What advice would you give to students going an international placement site?

If you can, take a public health class related to the health issues in that region. I’ve learned so much since I’ve been back (as I’ve been taking classes related to health issues in Zambia) and wish I had known about this before I went!


Heidi Ransohoff

Heidi Ransohoff

Provide some background information: What degree are you pursuing, what are your research interests?

MPH in epidemiology. Research Interests: Global health, infectious diseases, violent injury

Where was your placement site?

FIOCRUZ in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Describe the public health issue you were trying to solve and/or solved?

Violent deaths among adolescents in Bahia (a large state in northeastern Brazil).

What was the greatest public health lesson that you learned?

The importance of descriptive analyses and collaborating with people in other disciplines.

What was your favorite memory?

My office was on strike for 8 out of the 10 weeks of my internship. Sometimes other people were there, but mostly I was there with only my boss’ assistance. She would bring me some local foods occasionally. I thought she was buying them somewhere but it turned it she was baking/cooking them herself! We would sit, drink coffee and eat together. We didn’t really understand each other, but it was great!

Describe the skills that you gained in your advanced degree program and how you applied these skills to your placement site

My classes last year exposed me to different statistical software packages (SAS, STATA and SPSS), which allowed me to be more independent during my internship. I was also able to do more with the data knowing some of the different functions the programs have. Having read many articles in the program, I was able to more easily carry out a literature review on my research topic. I also had a clearer idea of how the research would look if it were to be used in an article.

What advice would you give to students going an international placement site?

1. Try to go with another classmate even if you aren’t close or don’t know each other very well (especially if you aren’t fluent in the language of the place you are going). It would be nice to have a roommate, someone to get dinner with and travel/explore on the weekends.
2. Try to be open and don’t be too hard on yourself if things aren’t working out. And as a doctor told me, life is a game of Russian Roulette...you’re going to eat some things and you are going to get sick, but don’t fear the food!


Natalie Dickson

Natalie Dickson

Provide some background information: What degree are you pursuing, what are your research interests?

I am currently a second-year graduate student pursuing two concurrent Master’s degrees in African Studies (M.A.) and Community Health Sciences (M.P.H.). My interests include HIV prevention in East Africa, voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), male involvement in sexual health interventions, reproductive health, and STI prevention.

Where was your placement site?

Population Council – Nairobi, Kenya

Describe the public health issue you were trying to solve and/or solved?

I was responsible for cleaning and analyzing data from the Social and Economic Assets for Vulnerable Adolescent Girls Project (SEAVAG Project). As such, I spent most of my time coding, cleaning, and running different tests on the data collected from the mentor evaluation portion of the project. The SEAVAG Project collected data from a self-administered survey and independent evaluation of all mentors responsible for counseling girls within this project, in order to better understand how mentor quality would impact project outcomes differently. After cleaning and analyzing the data, I wrote a report on these findings, and presented the findings at a weekly staff meeting for the entire Pop Council office in Nairobi.

What was the greatest public health lesson that you learned?

Planning how to implement evaluation components before a project begins is crucial! I learned the value of evaluation, and how evaluation can strengthen projects by addressing weaknesses throughout the course of time, not just at the end when everything is collected and complete.

What was your favorite memory?

Taking my lunch breaks to explore the different cuisine options around the office. I also enjoyed accompanying the research team to the various field sites, where I would get to interact with the participants and mentors in the project.

Describe the skills that you gained in your advanced degree program and how you applied these skills to your placement site

Having a basic familiarity with STATA from Biostats 100A was definitely useful for my position within this project. Learning which data analysis tests to run through Epi 100 and CHS 211A/B also helped. Overall, I felt that having a foundation in program planning and evaluation, coupled with the 100-level classes such as Biostats and Epi afforded me a strong basic knowledge to apply to my position as an intern.

What advice would you give to students going an international placement site?

If you are going to a country where you have never been before, I would advise you learn at least a few sentences (greetings, basic questions, respectful gestures, etc.) before traveling. It makes a great deal of difference, and demonstrates a level of respect when you are able to speak the language in a country that is hosting you. I would also advise giving yourself at least a week to settle in to your surroundings before beginning the internship. Adjusting to a new country, language, and culture can be quite jarring, and letting yourself acclimate to public transportation, food, and your general bearings will be really useful to help you adjust in a new work environment. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to people! Talk to the locals. Ask questions to people in the market, or on the street. It’s not like Los Angeles – people are generally incredibly helpful and having a network of contacts in a new place is always a great benefit.


Emerald Snow

Emerald Snow

Emerald Snow is a second year MPH/MA student in the Community Health Sciences and Latin American Studies department.

Where was your placement site?

Bogotá, Colombia

What were your duties and what public health issues were you trying to solve?

Assisting the organization in their efforts to pursue more research in the future and beginning a research project to examine the effectiveness of medication abortion.

What was the greatest public health lesson that you learned at your placement site?

Always have a plan B, and allow more time for every task. Insert the plan B in case you didn’t need the extra time.

What was your favorite memory while you were at your placement site?

Meeting new friends/colleagues.

Could you describe the skills that you gained while pursuing your degree and how did you apply these skills to your placement site?

a. Systematic documentation – I documented hundreds of variables in various systems/databases. Consistency = key!
b. Data cleaning – cleaned one small database and one large one
c. Data analysis – performed multivariate logistic regression for one large study.
d. Summarizing/writing about findings – provided Orientame with a comprehensive report of analysis and findings.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in going on an international placement site?

Educate yourself on the language, culture[s], day-to-day life, and other geopolitical specifics about the place you are intending to go to


Adva Gadoth

Adva Gadoth

Adva Gadoth is a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Her research interests lie in the area of emerging infectious diseases, specifically neglected tropical diseases in the developing world. She is also interested in the intersection of environmental health and infectious disease transmission.

Where was your placement site?

My placement site was in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I worked both at the National Laboratory (l’Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale), and at the country office for the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI).

What were your duties?

I was involved in several tasks throughout the summer. At the beginning of my time in DRC, I helped assemble an IRB submission for a lab grant, and worked with UNICEF and WHO through the EPI to get a newly funded research project examining avenues for disease surveillance systems. I also aided my team in setting up a new research project in country that aims to observe and report on the long term health effects/ disease sequelae of Ebola survivors. Lastly, I worked on a validation study examining the scientific and logistical feasibility of using new blood analysis technology in the DRC as part of surveillance work. This research has the potential to impact the cost, efficiency, and reliability of surveillance programs in DRC and other low income countries with limited public health resources.  

What public health issues were you trying to solve?

 Improving surveillance systems so that public health officials and clinicians in the DRC have a better understanding of what health problems exist, the magnitude and scale of these problems, their location, and how they change or remain stable over time.

What was the greatest public health lesson that you learned at your placement site?

Patience. Public health practice, especially in bureaucratically and logistically challenging settings, can often feel slow and small-scoped in the short term. It’s important not to lose sight of the long term potential impacts of your work.

What was your favorite memory while you were at your placement site?

There was an outbreak of measles in Katanga province this summer, and I was fortunate enough to get to sit in on a task-force meeting to discuss intervention strategies for containing and controlling the epidemic. The Minister of Health showed up and I participated in the meeting entirely in French, which I had only started learning at the beginning of the school year. The whole thing was exciting and sort of surreal.

Could you describe the skills that you gained while pursuing your degree and how did you apply these skills to your placement site?

The Epidemiology 200 series gave me a very good basis for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of different study designs, and various biases that can harm the validity of epidemiologic research, as well as strategies for eliminating or ameliorating these biasing factors. Those topics played a big role in helping design parts of the new Ebola study with my teammates, including the development of a lengthy survey. My biostatistics courses were also very helpful in equipping me with the tools to conduct data analysis for the validation study.

What advice would you give students going on an international placement site?

Soak it all in! Enjoy your time abroad, grab every learning opportunity you can, and do as the locals do.


Rica Dela Cruz

Rica Dela Cruz

Rica Dela Cruz is a MPH student concentrating in epidemiology and global health. She has a strong passion for improving health in low resource Pacific Islands. Rica’s research interests include understanding the distribution and causes of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer among Pacific Island populations.

Where was your placement site?

Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation: Division of Public Health, Maternal and Child Health Program

Describe the public health issue you were trying to solve and/or solved?

I conducted a descriptive study that analyzed the overall birth trends, maternal demographics, and neonatal birth outcomes such as preterm births and low birth weight, in this underserved group of islands. I generated a report that summarized the data collected from delivery logs and provided recommendations on how to enhance the program based on the results found. This was the first extensive report on maternal and neonatal health that had been conducted in many years and was much needed for the program’s enhancement.

What was your favorite memory?

My favorite memories during my internship were the interactions I had every day with the local staff and public health professionals I worked with on Saipan. They were all so helpful and made me feel very welcome during my internship. I made lasting friendships with these people and learned a lot from them about the public health issues on these islands and the struggles of working there. Despite many workers not having a master’s degree, they taught me so much about working in public health and the islands.

What was the greatest public health lesson that you learned?

I learned that it is important to be flexible while working in public health, and especially in a global health or low resource setting. Funding can be very limited in public health and is even more limited in low resource settings such as in the islands I worked in. Having fewer funds may force you to be flexible with your work. For example, the program I worked for could not afford the license for the statistical software that I had learned and knew how to use at UCLA. As a result, I was forced to conduct my analysis on Excel, which is less sophisticated and a more time consuming process. Despite the initial difficulty I had, this taught me that I cannot always rely on what I was taught in the classroom and must adapt to the environment I work in and the resources available to me.

Describe the skills that you gained in your advanced degree program and how you applied these skills to your placement site.

I was able to apply the analytical skills I learned during my coursework at UCLA in a real life public health setting. My MPH program taught me the different components of a dataset, how to approach analyzing data, and different statistical procedures that can be implemented for conducting a descriptive study. Because my project was mainly analyzing data, I was able to utilize these skills.

What advice would you give to students going an international placement site?

Be open-minded and understanding of other cultures. When you work in another country, customs and work styles may be very different from what you are used to so it is important to go into the internship with an open mind. Remember that your internship may not be what you imagined and you should be prepared for the unexpected. Additionally, be respectful, but don’t be shy. Talk to people and enjoy the new experience.


Mindy Zhao

Mindy Zhao

Mindy Zhao is pursuing a Masters of Science in public health. Her research interests are varied, ranging from global health to technology-based innovations for health promotion. In the past, Mindy was involved with the design and implementation of a social media based HIV prevention program involving peer leaders here in Los Angeles and abroad in Lima, Peru. Currently, Mindy’s research focuses on the socio-economic, cultural, and environmental factors associated with child malnutrition, particularly in Uganda. More broadly, Mindy is interested in how such factors influence health disparities worldwide. In the future, she hopes to pursue research related to the development of evaluation tools for global health programs

Where was your placement site?

Kigezi Healthcare Foundation (KIHEFO) in Kabale, Uganda

Describe the public health issue you were trying to solve and/or solved?

Addressing protein-deficient malnutrition in children under 5 through an innovative rabbit-breeding project.

What was your favorite memory?

Helping prepare nutritious meals using local ingredients with community members during a nutrition outreach program. We prepared enough food to feed the whole village!

What was the greatest public health lesson that you learned?

Knowledge about nutrition, in this case the importance of protein intake for children, is important to the success and sustainability of nutrition-related interventions. We found through our program evaluation that many families did not understand why it is important for their children to consume protein even though they were participating in the rabbit-breeding project.

Describe the skills that you gained in your advanced degree program and how you applied these skills to your placement site.

The skills I learned in CHS 211A/B and in my statistic courses prepared me for the work I was involved with during my internship. I was involved with the writing of a study proposal to expand the rabbit-breeding project to other regions in Uganda and with the design of a post-intervention survey and focus group guide which was used to evaluate the impact of the program, as well as with the analysis of the data collected using these tools.

What advice would you give to students going to an international placement site?

Maintain flexibility. Make an effort to understand the work culture of your placement site, and in general to the customs of your host country/region. It is likely that it will be very different from what you are used to, especially in comparison to the fast-paced lifestyle we are accustomed to here in Los Angeles.