Exploring communicable disease prevention, heat exposure, and connecting with health and safety professionals across the county

faceless lady with notebook and laptop at home
Work and Health Certificate trainee interns at OHSA

September 26, 2023

Kyla Haggith, NWCOHS Work and Health Certificate trainee, interned at OSHA summer 2023.

Kyla Haggith, BSN, RN, PCCN-K.

Having the opportunity to intern at OSHA this summer provided me with the most in-depth insight into Occupational Health Nursing that I have had in my short career. I applied on a whim after seeing it advertised on the OSHA website.  I thought that because I am in my first year of Occupational Health Nursing education, I would get some valuable feedback on my application for the following year. I was pleasantly surprised when they accepted my application.

The eight-week long virtual internship included lectures, meetings, and an internship project. Lectures covered typical topics such as respiratory protection, silicosis, and occupational noise exposure. I particularly appreciated topics like recordkeeping, developing national standards, and heat exposure standards. Learning the historical backgrounds helped me contextualize it more and apply it to real life more readily. Some internships require putting in hours of work without much learning, but this internship experience could not be further from that. The directors of the internship program go out of their way to make sure that you have a seat at the table and get the most out of your brief time with them.

Communicable disease prevention in the field

My main project was contributing to the Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO) field manual chapter on preventing communicable diseases while performing inspections. Potential exposures include respiratory illness such as COVID-19 and influenza, vector-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Histoplasmosis and contact with contaminated water and risk of exposure to Leptospirosis or Schistosomiasis to name a few. With better identification of potential communicable disease risk in the field, CSHOs can continue to protect the public.

Value of a shared experience

Working with my co-interns was a highlight of the program. I was in a group with two Occupational Health trainee physicians and one other Occupational Health training nurse. While we were separated geographically, going through the same program with other interns made it easier to manage. I could ask questions and seek help troubleshooting issues. For example, how to do heat calculations.

Learning about different arenas to work in was also interesting. I appreciated hearing about the experience of one of my co-interns who worked for Disney Parks in their Public Health department. Making connections with others in the field is always invaluable, and I was lucky to be part of a fun group of interns.

Investigating a worker death case
I also had the opportunity to start an investigation into a worker death with two possible mechanisms, one of them being heat exposure. I dug into the details of the case and went in-depth to review the weather, heat charts, acclimatization, and workload to help determine if heat was a contributing factor in this case. I learned a ton about worker injury and death cases that OSHA handles and have a much more comprehensive understanding of these processes.

Next steps

While I am not sure that working for OSHA is my ultimate career goal, I certainly know more about the career pathways available to me after completing this internship. I was able to connect with people who have worked for high profile entities such as Disney, Lockheed Martin, and the Department of Defense in Occupational Health, which have expanded my horizons of potential careers to explore. If you are considering this internship, I would highly recommend applying - you may be surprised!

Cover photo by Vlada Karpovich: https://www.pexels.com/photo/faceless-lady-with-notebook-and-laptop-on-floor-at-home-4050302/