Rebecca Distler - Suva, Fiji

Department of Health Policy and Management, Global Health Concentration at YSPH 
Global Health Initiative

Career goal: To consult on nutrition and non-communicable disease policies in low- and middle-income countries.

Internship outline: I worked as an intern for the World Health Organization, based in Suva, Fiji, in the Non-Communicable Diseases Unit. My work focused primarily on the Health-Promoting Schools initiative, a WHO program that partnered with local schools to help them develop health policies and strategies for improving their school’s environment, student nutrition and decrease risk for non-communicable diseases. We worked closely with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, and over the course of my time in Fiji I visited 19 different schools to work with them on developing their strategic plans and project proposals. I also conducted research for the Fiji Food Taskforce, a group of individuals various stakeholder organizations, to develop draft nutrition labeling guidelines for Fiji.

Value of experience: This internship is perhaps the most significant experience I have ever had; not only did it provide me the opportunity to work for the WHO, an organization I have always wanted to work for, but also a chance to work with individuals at all levels and from all organizations, giving me a very unique perspective on the program, and allowing me to design a national implementation plan accordingly. It helped shape my approach to my coursework this year, and helped narrow my career-goals and focus. I developed a much deeper understanding of what it is like to work in developing countries, nutrition policy, program management and project communication and marketing.

Best moment: Visiting schools on Kadavu, a remote island to the south. In order to reach Kavala Bay School, I had to take a half hour plane ride to Kadavu, a 2 hour open-boat ride (through the rain) to the village, and then complete another 20 minute hike through the rugged hills. Just reaching the school was exhausting, but seeing all of the hard work this tiny school had done on the program, and how excited they were to be a part of HPS, made every second of the journey worthwhile. My favorite non-internship-related experience was shark diving. Along with a team of divers, I descended 60 feet to swim (without cages) with bull sharks, nurse sharks and reef sharks—some of which were more than six feet long! That was the most exhilarating thing I have ever done … although I waited to tell my mom until afterward and with all my limbs still attached.