A Glimpse at D.C.’s Public Health Careers

By Whitney Peters, MPH ’15 in Health Policy & Management, MSW ’15 in Policy & Practice

My partner and I (and our dog!) moved from Fort Collins, Colorado to New York City two years ago, when both of us were starting our graduate studies at Columbia. We fell in love with the City and were drawn by the academics and the School’s large network.  Over spring break, the Office of Career Services delivered with Mailman’s first-ever Washington D.C. Career Week. The glimpse at careers in the D.C. area provided invaluable insight for us both, with me searching for a summer internship to supplement my dual degree and Zach transitioning into the workforce.

Peters Arrive in NYC

Whitney Peters and her partner Zach on the day they arrived in New York City.

I, and a group of about 50 students, participated in three full days of meetings, tours, and events, with many being hosted by some amazing members of the alumni network.  Visits included the Congressional Budget Office, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, the Food and Drug Administration, Kaiser Family Foundation, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), and many more! We each were able to customize our own trip from a broad range of options: we could visit agencies of interest in pre-organized groups, connect with alumni who work in fields of similar interest, and/or go to an office or organization personally.

Actually visiting offices provided us with insight into the culture, attitude, and environment of a place – key factors that are rarely available in a job description or on a website. As a young professional, getting a first-hand look at the wide array of work environments was invaluable. Something as integral as the issue or topic of focus is as important as employee relationships and the culture of an organization.

As part of our Washington Week, Zach and I also met with an alumna, Annette Ramirez de Arellano, DrPH’86, at the Smithsonian Castle Café just after she had finished a volunteer shift at the Museum for African Art. She has recently retired and is now freelancing in her spare time. Zach and I are both interested in this type of work as a means of pursuing personal interests while also providing supplemental income. We were happy and grateful to Annette for sharing a wealth of advice and information based on her extensive and impressive experiences in the field of public health.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

A group of us at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Whitney is front and center – black dress, gray jacket – and her partner Zach is behind her in the second row. (Photo credit: Heather Krasna)

When my partner and I moved to New York City, we had plans to stay here after graduating.  But we, like many students interested in national level policy and programming, feel that the job opportunities in Washington, DC, are more in line with our career aspirations. Additionally, I recently received a Fisher Cummings Fellowship through the School of Social Work, which allows me to spend my final semester learning and working at a federal agency in D.C.

From a personal and social perspective, having never lived in Washington, DC, I have wondered what it would be like to live and work in the nation’s capitol. I worry that if or when I move I will miss the culture, food, streets, subways, and people that are so unique to NYC! Will I be trading in a city filled with personality and zeal for life for one filled with automatons and politicos?  Will I have to give up my Unlimited Ride Metro Card for a gas-guzzling car to get me to and from work?  Will my friends still want to visit as often if I no longer have Central Park and Broadway just steps from my front door?

Although I was not able to fully answer all of these questions following this trip, after just three days of bounding around the city, I was able to see many of the benefits and charms that the Capitol has to offer. In my free time I stopped in to visit several of the free museums along the National Mall, took a leisurely stroll along the beautiful Potomac River, and had a happy hour beer that was only $2!

To say the least, this has been one of the best experiences I have had outside of the classroom since coming to Mailman. In hope someday, when I am established in my career, I can return the favor to future Mailman students as they embark on their lives as public health professionals.

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