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Why PHAA is strengthening its Internship Program in 2022 and beyond…

Why PHAA is strengthening its Internship Program in 2022 and beyond…

Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin – PHAA CEO

As an Organisation committed to building the public health workforce, one of our priorities is providing internships to students.

PHAA’s objective is to provide interns with real world experience, expose them to campaigning and advocacy activities, submission writing and policy development, and expand their networks in the field. We aim to give interns a program tailored to their interests, and needs.

PHAA reviewed its internship program in 2021 and made substantive changes. It now offers five dedicated six-week blocks throughout the year, with a proposed semi-structured plan to ensure all interns gain core policy & advocacy skills, in a personalized approach.

PHAA also moved to a virtual program, which helped to address both the economic privilege involved in potential short-term relocation, and to ensure the continuation of the internship despite the pandemic. The pandemic taught us that we can host interns remotely, from anywhere, and still immerse them in opportunities to learn, gain experience, and grow their networks.

“In 2021, I accepted a PHAA internship, allowing me to learn more about the world of public health while doing postgraduate studies in Brisbane. I had planned to relocate to Canberra for this program, but due to interstate border restrictions, I was unable to leave Queensland. Fortunately, I was offered the opportunity to complete my internship virtually, which proved to be a valuable experience.

“At the start of the internship, I had a discussion with my supervisor on what my main focus areas were. Throughout the program, we had regular meetings to discuss what was on each day’s agenda. I had the opportunity to sit in on many virtual meetings, committees, and conferences, including:

  • The Australian Public Health Conference
  • A campaign steering committee
  • Multiple conference advisory committee meetings
  • PHAA national office meetings
  • 1:1 meetings with the PHAA CEO & managers of various sectors of PHAA’s work, inc. Communications, & Finance
  • Group policy & advocacy training sessions
  • Valuable networking opportunities with public health experts & branch and Special Interest Group (SIG) members

“I particularly enjoyed applying the insight gained from these activities, through assisting in the writing of submissions on areas of interest, including a response to the World Health Organization’s Recommendations for the Prevention and Management of Obesity.

“When I had university assignments coming up, I was able to adjust my PHAA schedule to allow myself extra time to work on these assessment pieces.”

– Mel Parker, former intern

While internships remain unpaid (due to limited funding) – suggesting economic privilege is still at play, PHAA suggest a maximum of 30hrs per week which is negotiable to ensure students can maintain their work/study/life commitments.

In November 2021, a call for applications for the 2022 intern program was made, with 60+ interested candidates submitting applications. All candidates were of an exceptional calibre with interest in a range of key priority areas of the Organisation.

PHAA’s first intern for the year, Chithra Ravi Mandalam, writes on her motivation and experience so far:

“My motivation in applying was to get a glimpse into the public health field. Particularly, how submissions are written, how other organisations work with PHAA, and what public health areas align with my interests. My experience in other industries is that it’s quite challenging to get this information from the outside. Furthermore, university experiences often bear little resemblance to the actual field. Internships allow us to get a taste for the field, see how our interests can be pursued within it, and see if we want to commit to a career change.

“There is an issue of economic privilege. It’s important to note that interns drive the contributions they make to PHAA. We choose the work and conversations we would like to be part of – it’s tailored to what the intern gets out of it. While I’m doing this internship, I’m thinking about the topics I want to delve into, the entries I want to write, the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) I want to work with and hear from in the future.

“I’m excited to put forth my submissions and contribute to the national conversation, especially as a migrant. Often there are barriers for young people and diverse communities for getting their voice heard. I’m hoping to synthesise some of my perspectives as a woman and person of colour with public health policy and data. I’m also looking forward to hearing from experts in their field and getting their input on my submissions. This is a unique network with a wealth of experience, which is hard to build as an outsider. Having interns from a range of backgrounds can increase the breadth of perspectives and ensure a more inclusive and robust debate on public health.

– Chithra Ravi Mandalam, current intern

The large number of applications indicates a gap in opportunities for students looking to gain experience, and available training programs – which leads to highlighting one of the PHAA’s asks for the federal election –  investment in the national public health workforce.

We are advocating for three key actions:

  1. Establish and fund a standardised national public health training program for all jurisdictions, including recruiting high quality candidates from both medical and non-medical backgrounds.
  2. Establish nation-wide ongoing professional development credentialing programs for public health professionals.
  3. Conduct a national review aimed at identifying additional means of increasing the size, expertise and surge capacity of the Australian public health workforce.

What’s next for the Internship program?

The program will continue to build future public health leaders. We’ll keep asking for interns’ feedback and insight to strengthen the program, & we’ll work with the Students & Young Professionals in Public Health committee to grow networks and identify funding for future stipends to support interns.

We thank all of the PHAA 2022 internship program applicants, and congratulate the successful candidates.

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