Samantha Rodriguez (IDM '16) participated in the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) Pittsburgh Summer Institute in Applied Public Health where she, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), helped to plan, execute, and review the county’s Raccoon Oral Rabies Vaccination (ORV) Program, as well as assisted with ORV distribution. From August 5–12, more than 100 volunteers spread out across the county to distribute 300,000 ORVs—referred to as “baits,” they were coated in fishmeal to entice raccoons—by tossing them into locations known to be associated with the animals, such as bushes, streams, gutters, and forests. This was by far the largest hand-baiting effort since the program’s inception 14 years ago; during this period, the county’s population of rabid raccoons has declined by 77 percent—from 26 in 2002 to just six in 2015.
Rodriguez, whose work was praised by her colleagues at both the ACHD and USDA, took full advantage of her internship. In addition to assisting with the ORV program, she went on housing and building inspections with housing inspectors, spent a day with a public health nurse in the infectious disease division, and made connections in just about all divisions. “Most importantly,” she says, “I got a tour of the microbiology laboratory and after a long process was offered a job as a public health microbiologist, which has been my career goal for years and is the reason I pursued an MPH with a concentration in infectious disease pathogenesis, eradication, and laboratory practice.”
She says she would encourage anyone who is considering the Pittsburgh Summer Institute to apply and to make the most out of the internship opportunity, especially because she believes it can greatly enhance the Pitt Public Health experience. “Actual experience working in public health only reinforced my passion for continuing school,” she says. “It is always a plus when you know what you’re talking about, so being able to utilize what I’ve learned in the classroom was fantastic.”