Princeton students resumed their global health internships this summer on six continents

For the first time in two years, students at Princeton University traveled domestically and internationally for summer internships in global health. The Health and wellness center (ASC) at School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) sponsored 91 research opportunities, senior thesis projects, and other health-focused projects.

(L to R) Tiffany Tsai ’25, Safiya Topiwala ’24, Nhuquynh Nguyen ’23, Joan Perez ’23, Johnson Lin ’25 and Michelle Wang ’23 stand outside the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro.

While some internships were carried out remotely, most took place on site. The easing of travel restrictions resulting from a new phase of the COVID pandemic has allowed students to visit Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, South America and many US destinations to explore a wide range of topics, from antimicrobial resistance to brain cancer therapies, to barriers to childhood vaccinations. in low- and middle-income countries, and the impact of COVID-19 on mental health.

“In partnership with our host institutions, we were delighted to once again offer immersive and international experiences for students interested in global health,” said Gilbert Collins, Director of Global Health Programs and Co-Director from CHW. “While virtual work is valuable and rewarding, on-site internships allow students to engage more deeply with local cultures and stakeholders.”

These fully-funded internships, open to all Princeton undergraduate and graduate students, significantly enrich academic coursework. Students gain perspective on global health while formulating ideas for further research, advanced education, and careers.

Visiting students at work

In July, a team of CSA staff visited student interns at two new partner organizations: the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a health research and development institution in Rio de Janeiro, and UNICEF South Africa, based in Pretoria. The encounters revealed extraordinary student work and eye-opening experiences.

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Safiya Topiwala looks through a microscope while researching leprosy and other infectious diseases.

In many cases, the internships exposed students to the practical side of global health for the first time.

“I’ve traveled overseas but never worked or studied in another country,” noted Michelle Wang ’23, a chemistry concentrator pursuing a certificate in global health and health policy (GHP). “The internship at Fiocruz brought to life the things we read about in class and helped me understand what global health looks like in the real world.”

For periods of eight to 10 weeks, CSA-sponsored interns collaborated with clinicians, scientists and academics to assess and improve public health. Wang has investigated the impact of natural disasters on the mental and physical health of Brazilian citizens and developed strategies to build stronger and more resilient communities.

Also in Fiocruz, Safiya Topiwala ’24, a molecular biology concentrator pursuing a GHP certificate, studied how leprosy is diagnosed and treated in Brazilian clinics while conducting laboratory research. “This type of research could improve our understanding of leprosy and how to manage infectious diseases,” Topiwala said.

Other Fiocruz interns have worked in the institution’s technical-scientific unit and in its hospital for women, children and adolescents, where they have examined issues related to health and the environment or have followed physicians caring for patients with high-risk pregnancies.

“There’s a lot to learn about health equity when you visit a country with a unified public health system,” said Johnson Lin ’25, who is considering a major in ecology and evolutionary biology.

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Ariza Francisco poses in front of a mural at UNICEF in Pretoria, South Africa

Ariza Francisco, MPA candidate at SPIA, spent her summer at UNICEF South Africa. Her first interaction with UNICEF was in 2013 when her home country of the Philippines was hit by a devastating typhoon that killed thousands. UNICEF was among the first responders on the ground, which influenced her desire to support the agency’s mission to improve the lives of children.

During his internship, Francisco, who focuses on international development and urban policy, analyzed national immunization data to identify the challenges, barriers and bottlenecks facing unimmunized children in South Africa. South. His analysis and recommendations were presented to the country’s highest health advisory committee, helping to strengthen the country’s immunization program.

“This summer, I learned how important vaccination is for global health. It is our first point of contact with infants, children and sometimes mothers,” she said.

She highlighted how improving the country’s immunization rates through research and well-informed community initiatives could reduce the prevalence of preventable diseases, such as measles and polio, while improving health and well-being. South African families.

Shaping lives at home and abroad

The Global Health Internship Program aims not only to provide meaningful summer engagement opportunities, but also to inspire future academic and professional work in global health. Interns typically return to Princeton with a broader vision of global health and a renewed sense of purpose. Some students feel more confident about their chosen field of study while others embark on a whole new path.

Tiffany Tsai ’25, a planned molecular biology hub, rekindled her childhood ambitions. After losing her grandfather to cancer at the age of four, she developed a curiosity for medicine and a quest to fight disease. Her summer internship in Brazil reinforced that resolve, leaving her more determined to improve public health and bridge the gap between modern medicine and vulnerable communities.

Joan Perez ’23, a medical anthropology concentrator pursuing a GHP certificate, and Nhuquynh Nguyen ’23, a philosophy concentrator pursuing a neuroscience certificate, have asserted a passion for mother-child health. “Working in a public hospital fueled my desire to open a free healthcare clinic in the United States or South America where I could impact thousands of lives in low-income communities,” said said Perez.

Nguyen has rejuvenated her vigor for women’s health care and advocacy, particularly with reproductive rights. She hopes to apply the insights from her research in Brazil to her work with the Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice organization on campus.

Overall, students emphasized that their summer internships would have profound and lasting effects, personally and professionally.

“I’ve learned that good health care – in any setting – starts with compassion,” added Topiwala, who observed a simple “beauty” in showing people you care. The aspiring doctor noted that she will bring this lesson to her future medical practice practice and all his activities in life.