Internship puts Bio Med students on frontline of Nigerian health crisis

Alisha Soni | Staff Writer

Through an internship at Georgetown University, Mason High School (MHS) students used their passion for public health to impact Nigerian communities.

Through HOSA, which is a health organization that allows people across the world to participate in different medical events, sophomore Mithul Vivek was introduced to the Advanced Public Health and Medicine internship hosted at Georgetown University. Vivek said he has always wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. With his ongoing passion for medicine, and his determination to make a difference in the world, Vivek decided to apply for the internship.

“I’ve unfortunately had a couple of losses in the family that could have been prevented with proper medical care,” Vivek said. “I want to make a difference in someone else’s life so that they don’t have to go through the same struggles my family did.”

During this one-week internship, the high school interns focused on ways to improve public health aspects in Nigeria, Africa. Many Nigerians lack access to medical care and clean water. The program targeted improving conditions, like this, in this underserved country, mainly through various lectures and projects that gave them real-world experience dealing with patients and different diseases. 

For one of their projects during the week, the interns were tasked with diagnosing a real patient from Nigeria and recommending treatments to them.  To prepare, the interns worked with Nigerian doctors to learn about the different diseases afflicting the region. Then, to test their knowledge, the interns met the patients online to ask different questions regarding their symptoms and recommend a course of treatments to help them. With the added use of technology,  junior Hanniel Rudrapati said he found this experience both interesting and realistic.

“Throughout the week we basically became experts in four diseases: acute respiratory infection, anemia, malaria, and typhoid,” Rudrapati said. “They gave us Oculus VR headsets and we got to interact with [the patients] and ask them questions as if we were real doctors. The VR made us feel like we were actually there, [which] was pretty cool.”

Another project called for the group of interns to present an innovation that could improve the public health of Nigerians. Sophomore Prabhat Majji and his group proposed using stations throughout the country to provide access to clean drinking water through the use of boiled water and aluminum sulfate, a nontoxic liquid that can be used to purify water. Majji said both of these items can be commonly found in Nigeria, making Majji’s solution a feasible option that has the potential to help the lives of many Nigerians. 

“Clean water is [extremely] important, even though in the United States we take it for granted,” Majji said. “We found materials that people use in Nigeria, and how they can incorporate it into making clean water. That’s going to be incorporated in Nigeria, so that’s pretty cool.”

The presentations created by the interns were sent to staff members in Nigeria so that their ideas can be implemented in the country. With their ideas and overall research, the interns have managed to create an impact in communities across the world.

The students were also given the opportunity to learn and practice various medical hands-on activities. Under instruction by professionals, the interns were taught a variety of skills such as performing an ultrasound and conducting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). With the use of virtual reality, interns were placed in a simulation where they practiced giving medical aid to a virtual patient. Sophomore Neev Mehta said that the hands-on activities were helpful in figuring out what he found interesting in the medical field.

“There was specific equipment that people use in the real world and we got to experience what it looked like,” Mehta said. “It helped me gain experience and using that experience, I can move forward, and it can [help] determine what I want to do.”

Apart from the educational aspect of the internship, Majji said he was also able to establish new relationships with the other interns. He initially joined this internship with his friends, but through the program, he was introduced to students from across the country and different parts of the world.

“Another thing that I really liked about the internship is you got to meet people from all over,” Majji said. “At the end, there was a party [and] that was the most fun thing because you’d build connections throughout the week, and [at the party] we got to play different games.”

During the internship, the interns spent all their time on campus at Georgetown University. Mehta said this internship not only gave him the experience of a medical setting, but also gave him insight into the college environment.

“It was a little bit intimidating seeing college students walk around,” Mehta said. “But I also felt proud because I was doing some of the programs that they were doing, [even] at my age. 

After the end of the week-long program, Rudrapati said that he was interested in continuing what he had studied during the internship. Rudrapati, along with Mehta, Majji, and Vivek, was accepted for the International Internship Program, which is an add-on to the Advanced Public Health and Medicine internship at Georgetown University. 

“It’s basically what we did during the summer [times 10],” Rudrapati said. “You work for nine months instead of a week and your project coordinators, somebody actually in Nigeria, will take your plan and implement it.”

Although public health is a very generalized topic, Rudrapati found the internship highly educational and fun. Rudrapati initially joined to learn the basics of medicine and its impact on public health worldwide; however, he found a way to continue his research journey through the International Internship Program.

“Before I didn’t really think about how many aspects there were to [medicine] or much need there is for high-quality medicine in Nigeria,” Rudrapati said. “I’m going to do another internship next year and I’m going to try to become a staff member because [this program] created a spark for me.”

Infographic by Alisha Verma