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This Week in The Lancet

  • Volume 377 1719 (2011)
  • May 21, 2011

An internship at WHO

After much deliberation, I secured a place at the World Health Organisation (WHO) for two months over the Summer working as an “intern.”  I had no idea what the work would involve.

I was allocated to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. The department was working on two projects at the time, and I was able to help with both. I did  a systematic review for the “international guidelines on the treatment of opioid dependency.”

The second project was to compile a report on what were the “key players / organizations” interested in alcohol related issues and alcohol policies. This project required extensive reading and evaluation of the literature. It was particularly interesting as I was able to develop a good knowledge base on the issues surrounding the implementation of a “global alcohol policy and the implications it is likely to have on a wide array of organisations including those in the UN set up, other governmental organisations and member states.  This work also formed a good introduction into the understanding of the United Nations set up and the importance of it.

I was also able to attend high profile meetings and meet the world’s specialist in many fields of public health. Such talks were inspirational and only further added to my aspirations of wanting to make a difference to the world of global health. Also since all the UN organisations are located close to each other I was able to pay them a visit.

My experiences at WHO broadened my understanding of medicine. There are many dimensions to health and policy, which up until my elective period, I somewhat overlooked. These include political, legal and financial restraints which are so variable in different countries and I certainly began to appreciate such variation at WHO.

There are many opportunities to help such countries such as fundraising to send 5 HIV knowledge base kits to an AIDs orphanage in Africa, which gave me much satisfaction. There is a very active “intern network” that organises many social events, and without a doubt, the interns become very close during their period at WHO.

In conclusion, I strongly recommend that students interested in public health  do an elective placement at WHO, details of which can be found on the WHO website at:

I left WHO with much admiration for all the employees there, who work intensely to make a change for the better of the millions of people in the world today.

Srimathy Vijayan
4th Year Medical Student
School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice
University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ

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