2010 PFIG Recipient Rosa Bauer-Moshi
College of Arts & Sciences
Human Biology and Anthropology Major
2011 Graduation Year
Internship: The Aurum Institute
Notes on the first week
I landed in South Africa on January 26th unsure of what to expect, but full of excitement and anticipation. I was going to spend 6 months working for the Aurum Institute, a South African HIV/TB research institution based in Johannesburg, but with sites throughout the country, including the one I would be working at in Klerksdorp, a small city 2 hours southwest of Johannesburg. I spent my first week in Johannesburg going into the head office and traveling out to see some other Aurum sites. I was given material to read to familiarize myself with the company, HIV in South Africa, and the major HIV microbicide clinical trial I would eventually be involved with. Since I had not arrived in Klerksdorp yet, I was not able to start with my actual job, but I was able to clarify and get a much clearer picture of what I would be doing. I would be working as one of the 5 research assistants at the Aurum Institute, Klerksdorp site. It would be several months before our site was activated to begin this clinical trial and, in the mean time, I would be involved in recruiting potential participants, administering a behavioral questionnaire (which I hope to later analyze and use for my thesis research at UVA in collaboration with a mentor at the Aurum Institute) used to identify potential eligible participants, keeping stats on various duties, and administering HIV testing and counseling (a service provided by the Aurum Institute).
By the end of my first week I was keen to get to Klerksdorp and start working. I had no idea what working on a large-scale clinic research trial would be like, and though the actual trial wasn’t due to start for several months, I was excited to learn about all the preparations involved. I also foresaw myself getting experience in and learning a number of new, useful, and concrete skills including participant interviewing and administration of behavioral questionnaires, HIV testing and counseling, and how to keep appropriate stats. As someone with an interest in the broad fields of public health, medicine, and scientific research, I was also looking forward to the opportunity to refine my academic interests and career goals though the exposure this internship would provide me to many aspects of all three fields.
It has been an exhausting, but enjoyable 3 months and I feel like I have learned a tremendous amount during the first half of my internship. I have been going out to various places to recruit women between 18 and 40 to come into Aurum to fill out a behavioral questionnaire and have an HIV test. Recruitment involves going out to government clinics in the town and surrounding townships, speaking to people in the vast waiting rooms, and collecting contact information from women who are interested. Then, back onsite, we (the other research assistants and myself) call these women and schedule appointments for them to come into Aurum, complete the questionnaire, and get an HIV test. Before arriving in South Africa I had thought that most people here spoke English, but language has been a definite barrier for me. Most people in the townships near me speak some English, but many people aren’t comfortable with it, and would much prefer to speak to someone in their native tongue. Dealing with that language barrier has exposed me to just one challenge of international work and public service.
Recruitment has allowed me to see some of the most impoverished areas around Klerksdorp and to interact with the people living there. It has been difficult and upsetting at times, but it’s great to visit these places not solely as a tourist, but as someone with something to offer back to the community (however small that is). I’ve been able to develop relationships with the people there and to gain some understanding of their way of life.
I have also been administering the informed consents and questionnaires to these recruited women back on site. These questionnaires are being used to gain a general understanding of the area and also as a tool to identify potentially eligible participants for the clinical trial, which is due to start in a month or two. As I mentioned in my first entry, I am also planning to use data from these questionnaires for my thesis back at UVA. I really enjoyed getting trained to administer informed consents and behavioral questionnaires and it opened my eyes to the necessary importance of nuances in scientific research. Without ensuring that a participant fully understands the informed consent, you cannot legally proceed with the questionnaire, and just the slightest rephrasing of a question can change the entire meaning.
I have not yet been trained to give HIV testing and counseling, but there has been training scheduled for next week and it’s great to continuously learn new skills and be given new tasks. I’m also looking forward to the activation of the clinical research trial. We have a week of internal training and then the sponsors are coming to do another week of external training. I’m really enjoying the variety of experience that my internship has provided thus far and should continue to provide.
In my final months at the Aurum Institute I continued to learn new skills and be challenged by the work I was doing. I was trained to provide HIV testing and counseling, which I found that to be the most difficult part of my internship. I went through a weeklong program that taught me how to do the physical testing and how to counsel people before administering the test and after giving them their test results. I must admit that even after this week of training, I felt entirely unprepared to deal with the gravity of telling someone that they have HIV. I think the counseling may have been especially difficult for me because I come from such a different world and had difficulty fully understanding or relating to many of the situations people described to me. While this was the most challenging part of my internship, I also found it to be the most rewarding and (with the help of my wonderful colleges!) I was able to see myself grow and improve as a counselor over time.
During the final month of my internship, I was able to see the start of a major clinical trial testing two new HIV prevention methods throughout several sites in sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout the next year, our site is expected to enroll 300 women for this study and, having seen the first few women enrolled, I think this is a huge and exciting undertaking. I also continued to administer the original behavioral questionnaire and am excited to begin work on my thesis once I get back to UVA.
Overall, interning at the Aurum Institute for past 6 months has been a great experience and I thank to Parents Committee Internship Grant for making it possible! I have learned a huge amount about HIV/AIDS, public health research, and working internationally. This experience has made me rethink my desire to conduct research. While interesting and exciting in theory, I think the day-to-day of research collection would quickly become repetitive and tedious and leave little room for creativity. Instead, I think I would prefer to work with the implementation of the results of research. I loved working internationally and in the field of public health and hope to continue to do so after I graduate. Thanks again!