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Courtney Choy - Samoa

Waking up at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I helped prepare the breadfruit and taro that will be cooked in the traditional Samoan umu (brick-oven) before church service.

Career goal: Become a global health scholar and advocate, leading prevention and control strategies of non-communicable diseases in the Pacific-Oceania region. 

Internship outline: Courtney worked with fellow MPH students, Jennifer Park from Yale University and Elizabeth Frame from the University of Michigan, to conduct a community-based survey to identify and assess the nutritional status of children aged 2 to under 5 years old on the Samoan island of Upolu. This project was in partnership with the Samoan Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Samoan Bureau of Statistics. Over six weeks, the research team screened over three-hundred children for undernutrition, overnutrition and anemia across ten villages. Courtney was particularly interested in understanding whether obesity and micronutrient deficiencies co-exist in Samoa. Having completed the data collection portion of this project, the research team plans to analyze the data over the coming months under the supervision of Dr. Nicola Hawley and provide their reports to the MOH.

Value of experience: During my brief time in Samoa, I practiced wearing many different hats—from principal investigator to nutrition educator to babysitter. I had the humbling opportunity to engage with many political leaders, village mayors, women representatives, overseas scholars and Samoan people on a surprisingly personal level.  I collaborated with a brilliant team of researchers, applied my skills from the classroom to an unfamiliar setting and overcame unexpected challenges. My first global health fieldwork experience surpassed all of my expectations. Through all the ups-and-downs of my summer, I left Samoa as a stronger person, mentally and emotionally, with a desire to return to the country and continue working in global health research.

Best moment/experience: During my last week in Samoa, I had a chance encounter with one of the first participants in our study. She was overwhelmingly grateful for the health screening services we provided for her village and the anemia pamphlets made by the Nutrition Surveillance office at the MOH. Hearing her kind words, I was happy to see that our work was able to help at least one family in a small way.

Funding source: David Dull Internship Fund