Whitehead Internship Reflection

July 27, 2021 | Katie Hughes, Summer Healthcare Quality Data Analyst Intern

I had the good fortune of joining HCIF through Haverford College’s Whitehead Internship Program. As I was applying to different summer programs, HCIF stuck out to me – its mission aligns closely with my interests in public health and process improvement.  My experience has exceeded my expectations.

HCIF is broken up into two divisions, one team serves projects having to do with Population and Community Health, and the other, the team I joined this summer, focuses on Clinical Quality and Patient Safety Improvements. It is a small organization, with around 10 full time staff members. Given this small size, I found it relatively easy to get acquainted with the different personalities and projects. This process was made even easier through the welcoming and supportive culture that came through, even in an entirely remote environment. I worked primarily on two projects, the Health Equity Data Strategy Collaborative (HEDS) and the Pennsylvania Urologic Regional Collaborative (PURC), I also sat in on the Anti-Racism Council and the Marketing team meetings and assisted with a few Partnership for Patient Care initiatives.

I consider the highlight of my time at HCIF to be my involvement with HEDS. This initiative really kicked-off during June, so I was privy to many of the early conversations and decisions being made about the direction of the program. I got to see first-hand how a collaborative decision-making process can produce polished, thoughtful outcomes. This initiative focuses on the collection and use of race and language data as a necessary step towards identifying and remedying disparities in healthcare outcomes. I particularly enjoyed attending larger meetings that convened healthcare workers at regional hospitals to discuss this project and the topic of health equity – I was enlightened by the nuance of the conversation and felt inspired by the eagerness and urgency with which they spoke about the issue.  

The other project I got to work on, PURC, aims to improve outcomes in treatment and diagnosis for men facing prostate cancer. My work primarily involved quality assurances of different reports and I was able to attend several meetings between physician participants in the collaborative. In the more data forward component of my internship, I got to troubleshoot the formatting in different excel documents and I enjoyed trying to make improvements that made them more functional. Again, I was heartened to see the enthusiasm and care with which these professionals took to their quality improvement initiatives.

While I was fascinated with the projects I got to work on, the thing that left the biggest impression on me was the culture of the organization. My coworkers demonstrated sincere interest in each other’s lives, and feedback was given kindly but authentically.  Our meetings often began with a “color check” where everyone on the call would select a color that best described their workload and emotional outlook for the week. This encouraged truthful reflection – there was no pressure to indicate that “everything was fine” and people often shared when they were having an overwhelming week or when they I had capacity to be helpful to those in need. I especially appreciated the intentional efforts each team member made to give credit when it was due. I always felt free to speak up and when I did, I felt that my contributions were thoughtfully considered and valued. I owe a specific debt of gratitude to Liz Owens. She is a project manager on the Clinical Improvement Team and the individual with whom I worked most closely. During our weekly one on ones, Liz showed me immense patience as I got my bearings within the organization and set me up with interesting and meaningful work.  I am very grateful for my time at HCIF and feel that it has equipped me with a greater understanding of working in a team and of the public health space more generally.

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