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Internships, the Alternative Gap Year

Outside the classroom: Required internships can offer paid positions, global policy experience and a segue to a career.

Approaching senior year, or perhaps after completing a graduate degree, many students contemplate a “gap year” for travel or work before committing to next steps. Hopkins’ School of Public Health offers a solution that not only gives students the opportunity to indulge their curiosity about potential pathways (sometimes including travel), but could also be the start of a career.

Degree programs like the Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) and the Master of Health Administration (MHA) offer intensive, focused academic training for the real world with a required residency in the second year of the program. Whether here in Baltimore or at sites all over the globe, students engage in real work while learning about policy and seeing public health practices in situ.

The practical experience of an internship puts students side-by-side with major players in their prospective career fields and positions them for success after graduation. This facetime with potential employers, not to mention the valuable experience gained, offers a competitive edge in the job market.

One hesitation for many students is cost, so it’s important to keep two things in mind:

First, some internship experiences offer paid positions.

Second, there’s a unique opportunity for students pursuing the MSPH—a Master’s Tuition Scholarship (MTS). Qualifying MSPH students in their second year receive a MTS that covers 75 percent of tuition.

JHSPH students have interned all over the world, gaining valuable experience and practicing public health as part of their education. Here, two graduates reflect on their experiences both in the U.S. and abroad and offer insight for prospective students considering their next steps.

Allyson Nelson, MSPH '15NAME: Allyson Nelson, MSPH ’15

CURRENT JOB: Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Manager, Jhpiego (Liberia)

INTERNSHIP: First JHSPH Global Health Fellow in the Jhpiego Ghana office

DURATION: 5 months


For my residency, I served as the first JHSPH Global Health Fellow in the Jhpiego Ghana office. My role was primarily to design and initiate the data collection systems for a multi-year cluster randomized trial. In this role, I also collected the study’s baseline data, and led the in-country component of participant enrollment. I was based in Accra, but spent about half of my time traveling to the hospitals included in the study in Upper West, Central and Western Regions. The study was examining the impact of a new method of training midwives—called Low-Dose, High-Frequency—on newborn deaths on the day of birth and stillbirths during labor. The study, part of a larger program called the Accelerating Newborn Survival Program, concluded just a few months ago with great results: Newborn deaths were reduced by 56 percent and intrapartum stillbirths were halved in the year after the intervention began.

The residency was one of the field placement options with the JHSPH Center for Global Health (CGH).

I knew I wanted to be in an NGO setting, yet still be able to apply my newly acquired skills and knowledge from my first year in International Health’s Global Disease Epidemiology and Control program. I wanted to be somewhere in Africa, but did not have a strong preference as to where. I was applying for other internships outside of the CGH program as well, but luckily I was matched to the Jhpiego Ghana site and decided to pursue that option.

The best part of the experience was the challenge and responsibility of designing a data collection system and data analysis approach that would be used to inform and improve the program along the way, as well as provide evidence for the effectiveness of the new training approach.

I learned to be creative and flexible in order to find the best approach and adapt as needed to best suit the situation. We had a small team, so I was able to work very closely with my colleagues and learn from them. I was grateful for their trust and respect, and our ability to work collaboratively and draw from our various expertise.

When I first returned to Baltimore, I continued to support the project and study remotely, primarily because I was in the process of training a Ghanaian colleague who assumed my in-country role.

During this time, the Jhpiego Ghana office received additional funding for a new project, called the Maternal and Child Survival Program. I was able to help start up this project by providing remote support. When I graduated a few months later, Jhpiego offered me a full-time position to continue in my role of program monitoring and evaluation for the Ghana and Liberia portfolios.

I found the required residency valuable to my graduate program and job prospects. The residency gives you time to apply the concepts and skills from your coursework, and cements the learning. It also gives you the opportunity to try a new role before applying for full-time jobs.

I would advise students to make the most of the residency/internship. Try something you haven’t done before, go somewhere you haven’t been before. Find a great mentor and work with them to push yourself. This will help you get the most from the experience.

I would also suggest looking for a residency with a clear deliverable or scope of work. This will ensure you have responsibility for a task and a goal to accomplish in what is, usually, a short-term assignment.

Read more about Allyson’s current work in Liberia


Ryan Le, MHA '17NAME: Ryan Le, MHA ’17

CURRENT JOB: Analyst, Strategic Alliances and Global Services Department, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (NYP)

INTERNSHIP: Global Services Department at NYP Hospital

DURATION: 11 months

As a resident, I was able to help lead a variety of projects, including a redesign of the global patient services analytics function, set-up of NYP’s Second Opinion telehealth program, and development of international business strategy to drive patient volume. As a component for the completion of my residency, I had exposure to people working in senior-level leadership. Under the direction of my program preceptor, I was able to speak to hospital executives not only about the work they do, but their career paths as well. The residency’s emphasis on network building enabled me to better understand my interests and future opportunities as a young professional.

Each year, the list of employers and opportunities available to students is dynamic and changing. The selection process takes into account personal interests of the student (career trajectory, past experiences, opportunities for growth, location, etc.) and matches them with needs of employers. This residency demonstrates the strength and diversity of the Hopkins alumni network. A large majority of residencies offered each year are driven by alumni of the program wishing to invest in young talent from their alma mater. From San Francisco to Singapore, the opportunities for success stretch across the world. During my time at Hopkins, I have found that this connection between the alumni network and current students spans all degree programs in the School.

The best part about this residency for me was that it helped springboard my entire career through the development of both professional and personal relationships across an entire institution. While the classroom offers a fantastic opportunity to gain knowledge, it is industry experience that helps bring these concepts and ideas to life. The residency challenged me to solve complex issues within healthcare with the understanding that there was a supportive culture to help guide me along the way. Assuming real responsibility with the power to affect real organizational change can be hard to find within an internship opportunity, but I can confidently say that, from day one, I was always considered a valuable asset to the department.

Quite simply: Clear and honest communication. There was a firm understanding from the start of my residency that this was an exploratory opportunity to determine my future career path. My preceptor understood this well and encouraged me to learn more about the industry through networking with various individuals.

One of the biggest questions I struggled with was whether or not to take a gap year before entering graduate school. In the end, I believe that entering JHSPH directly after obtaining my undergraduate degree was one of the best decisions I could have made. While I do certainly see the merits of taking a gap year in terms of gaining experience, the nature of the residency program gave me a solid foundation for entering the workforce as well as the chance to take on projects that I was passionate about. In my personal opinion, the residency just offers a flexibility and professional development opportunity that a traditional gap year does not necessarily match. The mandatory residency actually was the biggest selling point for me in choosing Hopkins for my master’s degree. In just two years, I was able to complete not only my education at the best public health school in the world, but also a year of work experience that put my newfound knowledge to the test.

The biggest thing I would say to prospective students is that it is still perfectly okay to not be 100 percent set on a certain career plan. Obviously, one should have a broad understanding of their interests (hopefully at the very least in public health if they are applying to JHSPH), but graduate school should be used as a chance to learn more about different topics as a whole. Considering the caliber of professors and faculty at JHSPH and the breadth of their expertise, there is no better time to explore.

LEARN MORE about the MSPH program                                                                             

 LEARN MORE about the MHA program