2017 PFIG Recipient Richard Froese

Richard Froese – June 12th, 2017

Erich Froese

2017 PFIG Winner
Erich Froese
Major: Global Public Health/Psychology
UVA 2019

Internship: San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, San Antonio, TX

Read about my internship

Journal Entry #1

In just four short days, I have already found an immense sense of comfort and happiness in my position at the San Antonio Metro Health District. Not only do I enjoy the downtown location in the heart of the city, but the work has already been deeply rewarding. I cannot imagine spending my summer doing anything else, and I am grateful that I was offered the opportunity to gain experience in a field that I love.

The San Antonio Metro Health District is the public health agency charged with promoting healthy behaviors, preventing illness and disease, and creating the most favorable health conditions for communities in the greater San Antonio and Bexar County areas. The team is comprised of professionals in epidemiology, health equity, and disease prevention who work together to achieve the goal of a healthier city. The commitment of these staff members is unparalleled, and I feel greatly humbled to work with them in achieving this goal.

My first week at Metro Health was packed with events. On top of attending an American Heart Association conference and a collaborative council meeting to combat diabetes in San Antonio, I met with many program managers from Metro Health to discuss some of the projects I will be completing throughout the summer. I work most closely with my internship supervisor, Kathy Shields, who is the program manager spearheading many of the efforts to decrease chronic disease throughout San Antonio. By working in the programs that fall under her specialty, I hope to learn more about preventing such diseases. Whether it be through attending meetings or actively engaging with the community, it is truly rewarding to know that I have the opportunity to help improve the city’s health through my own contributions. In the near future, I will have a role in the development of a health education program, which will allow me to convey my passion for public health. A few of the other projects are related to health marketing, diabetes prevention, and health equity.

It has been fascinating to see topics I have explored in an academic setting come to life in the professional world. One such topic is the emphasis on collaboration, which is utilized in public health to address the needs of a diverse community. A unique aspect of Metro Health is the extent to which collaboration is brought to the forefront. For almost every project, Metro Health has formed alliances with universities, hospitals, and businesses to create strategies that will be more comprehensive in combating disease. I have had the opportunity to meet physicians and healthcare professionals, as well as CEOs and worksite wellness individuals who are all devoted to promoting the city’s health. Moreover, by working with the health equity manager, I have seen how social justice and cultural sensitivity actually play a role in public health. With a population of over 1.5 million people, it is critical to understand how culture and demography intersect with public health needs. With each experience I have at Metro Health, my understanding of public health is strengthened.

I can only say that I am ecstatic for the remainder of my internship. 

Journal Entry #2

In my first few weeks at the San Antonio Metro Health District, I discussed my goals and interests with my internship supervisor. I noted my desire to understand existing challenges in public health while joining programs and initiatives geared towards empowering the community. While I am incredibly lucky to have already experienced both of these aspects firsthand, I feel even more grateful to spend the rest of my summer amplifying my involvement.

In order to understand the most prevalent health problems in San Antonio, I attended multiple meetings and conferences with my colleagues and supervisor. Among these, three stood out as some of the most influential discussions I have ever had the opportunity to observe. The first was a collaborative meeting comprised of professionals in medicine, business, and policy: the San Antonio Health Advisory Board. This meeting was unique, as it directly emphasized how professionals in different industries are working together to meet the city’s health goals. Innovative technologists presented a new mHealth site that aims to increase information about diabetes; nationally-recognized health insurance professionals discussed the importance of both physical and mental health issues in assessing wellness. It was humbling to witness the commitment these individuals possess to promote public health and well-being. The second significant meeting I attended was an academic exploration surrounding the intersection of public health outcomes and racial segregation & social mobility. This particular conversation encouraged those who work in public health to think about economic and social factors that have historically oppressed minorities within San Antonio. I admired the willingness of the speaker to openly address how discrimination disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities, further limiting their economic, educational, and health outcomes. The third was a convention of individuals from San Antonio Metro Health and the Bexar County Health Collaborative – the distinction being that Metro Health is the local government presence tasked with promoting health, while the Health Collaborative is a comprehensive community partnership that encourages health literacy and awareness. The meeting was centered on developing the city’s new Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP 2017), powerfully produced through diverse groups in all areas of public health. I was fascinated by the collaboration that was emphasized to strategically address San Antonio’s overarching health problems. A truly authentic public health approach encouraged participants to proactively improve health through prevention. Although it is a lengthy process, I believe the continuous devotion to this project allows it to be perfectly positioned to improve San Antonio’s health.

Aside from meetings and conferences, I have also been assigned specific projects ranging from improving health literacy to creating epidemiological profiles of each council district in San Antonio. I am grateful for these tasks because they allow me to have an active role in the city’s public health. Moreover, I am very thankful for the responsibility my supervisor and other members of the leadership team have given to me, as it has provided me with a diverse exposure to public health programming. By performing independent research related to these projects, it encourages me to learn about the local culture and build trust with community members. My first completed project was a comparative analysis of the city’s leading public health plans. I evaluated how each plan aimed to measure section improvements and attempted to find where similarities existed. I also examined social determinants of health that inhibit the program from being completely effective, which will allow professionals to adapt their strategies accordingly. The second project is a healthy eating campaign – “Viva Health” – that aims to extend culturally competent nutrition information to the public. While I have very little experience in marketing, I have appreciated the opportunities this project has provided me with to learn about improving health literacy through social media and advertising. I am assisting my supervisor and the nutrition coordinator in developing Facebook and Twitter campaigns, citywide billboard messaging, and local television segments that align with Viva Health’s core nutrition messages. The third project is a community health assessment I am creating in coordination with the Texas Department of State Health Services. The aim of the assessment is to gather chronic disease epidemiology data to allow local and state health officials to make more informed decisions. I am hopeful that I will be able to help create a comprehensive, culturally sensitive tool that will ultimately benefit public health throughout the city. 

With each of my experiences, my desire to pursue public health has been completely cemented. Whether it is through attending a professional meeting or completing an independent project, I feel a genuine passion in my work. Now that I have a greater understanding of health issues in San Antonio and a more authentic relationship with the community, I am excited to delve more deeply into my internship with Metro Health.

Journal Entry #3

My experience working with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (SAMHD) has been the most influential of all my academic and professional endeavors. Hidden behind the numerous deadlines and regulations that promote the continued operation of a government institution, I found that the true factor motivating SAMHD’s success was the passion and commitment of its employees. Central to the identity of a public health professional is an unparalleled desire to uplift the community and empower those around him; I feel quite lucky to have experienced this authentic empathy in each of my colleagues, a collective group of devoted individuals whose selflessness is ubiquitous.

This internship provided me with an array of opportunities to delve more deeply into the core areas of public health. I primarily achieved this by engaging with the comprehensive set of prevention programs  and services that Metro Health offers. Between spending time performing case surveillance at the local epidemiology division, attending outreach sessions in community health education, and developing a social media campaign to combat chronic disease, my opportunities were unique and diverse. I also attended multiple conferences that challenged me to think about how public health can be improved. This process can be considerably difficult, especially with respect to the changing needs of the community; this aspect, however, also makes the work incredibly rewarding.

Throughout my internship, I also learned the importance of integrating academic experiences into professional practice. The writing skills I have gained from my literature courses enhanced my efficiency compiling information; the research and analytical skills I have gained from my math and science courses allowed me to evaluate data more effectively; the consideration for cultural sensitivity I learned about through courses on South Asia and Latin America encouraged me to amplify health equity in public health programming. I now have a much stronger appreciation for the challenging classes offered at UVA, as I know the work is directly preparing me for future professional challenges. 

This internship has also provided me with greater personal skills, which I hope to maintain as advice to both myself and others. Notably, asking questions and making contributions stand out as the most critical. These factors have allowed me to achieve greater clarity in my work and heighten the level of personal responsibility in my pursuits. Most importantly, this internship taught me about the importance of maintaining passion. A career is a substantial investment of one’s time, and I cannot imagine spending mine doing anything other than what I love. For those considering future internships or careers, this is the strongest piece of advice I have that I was fortunate enough to learn: please do what makes you happy. It truly makes a difference.