Economics student Paulin Nusser tells us about her placement with the WHO
Name: Paulin Nusser
Degree course: Economics
Will graduate in: 2019
When I first applied to the Cambridge Global Health Scheme, I did not anticipate how profoundly this experience would shape me. At the time of writing, I am eight weeks into my placement, with just one week to go. My hopes were far surpassed during these incredible two months.
In 2017, WHO launched the Mekong Malaria Elimination (MME) programme, which evolved from the Emergency response to artemisinin resistance (ERAR), a high-level plan of attack to contain the spread of drug-resistant parasites in the Greater Mekong Subregion. The six countries of the Subregion – Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam – share the common target of eliminating malaria by the year 2030. The MME team in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, supports the Subregion’s malaria elimination strategy by facilitating coordination and dialogue among partners, communicating with external stakeholders, and coordinating cross-border initiatives.
‘I am immensely grateful for the faith my supervisors have placed in me, selecting me despite my unconventional background’
My undergraduate degree being in Economics, I had a very limited understanding of the technical complexities that the global fight to eliminate malaria faces. However, thanks to the fantastic support I received from my team, this did not impede my learning experience. Instead, it proved to be a wonderful opportunity to dive into an unfamiliar field and grow my passion in a new direction. I walk away from this experience with a much deeper knowledge of myself, my interests and my strengths. I am immensely grateful for the faith my supervisors have placed in me, selecting me despite my unconventional background in this area, and for the tremendous guidance throughout.
Prior to the start of my internship, my supervisor directed me towards an open-source lecture course in order to familiarize myself with the scientific and technological underpinnings of malaria, as well as to explore the historical, political, social and economic contexts in which control and elimination efforts are conducted globally. This I completed before arriving. I would advise any prospective intern to ask for, and be open to, resources that can help you prepare beforehand. I was also invited to participate in the team’s weekly video call before my arrival in Cambodia. These small steps prior to starting my internship genuinely helped me to make the most of my time in the office, especially since it reassured me while settling in during the first couple of days.
My learning experience was primarily composed of two aspects: the skills I practiced through the tasks assigned to me, as well as being exposed to the workings of WHO more generally. I have particularly enjoyed the wide variety of projects I was involved in, even if on the margins, as this made me truly feel part of the team and process. Although the scope of my assignment changed slightly due to the timing of my internship, my main tasks involved background research and reviews on various topics, on top of helping with the drafting and proof-reading of publications, or compiling data when necessary.
Beyond the work with my team, I was offered plenty of opportunities relating to WHO’s work more broadly. One particular highlight was attending a training on Health Equity, initiated by the National Institute of Public Health in collaboration with partners, under the leadership of the Ministry of Health. Since this event aligned perfectly with my background and interests, my supervisor and the coordinator from the responsible team made it possible for me to participate. As an intern, I also gained access to WHO’s eLearning platform, with an abundance of online courses on a broad range of topics. This, too, was an extremely valuable resource.
I have gained an invaluable awareness of the dynamics and intricacies of operating within the UN system. This was possible since my supervisors enabled me to attend a whole range of meetings, relating, for instance, to administrative matters and communications. My experience was further helped by the fact that only a year ago Dr Tedros was elected the new WHO Director-General, and so the organization is undergoing a whole range of transformations. One example of this is witnessing the global initiative to define WHO corporate values.
One aspect of my internship I would like to highlight is the great value of pursuing a placement in a country office. This is a unique opportunity, as most internships are based in the headquarters in Geneva. There are certainly advantages in having a large pool of other interns around, however I think these are matched, at the very least, by the benefits of gaining exposure to the country level. Personally, I believe this provides a much deeper insight into the implementation of WHO’s recommendations and the challenges faced in the field. This does include being faced with the reality of extensive duty travel within the teams, however, this itself provided me with a better appreciation of what to expect from employment with WHO. This being said, my supervisors were extremely good at supporting me remotely.
‘the guidance I received has influenced me profoundly’
All in all, what surprised me most was the way the people in my office approached me and their sense of obligation to me as an intern. Both in- and outside of my team, my colleagues made a significant effort to get to know me, listen to me and provide me with as much advice as possible. Not a single time was I turned down when asking to meet over lunch or coffee, and the guidance I received has influenced me profoundly. Being able to engage with so many interesting people was an immense privilege; the diversity of backgrounds and outlooks is simply unmatched by anything I have experienced elsewhere.
On the whole, I could not have hoped for a more enriching and enjoyable experience than with the WHO MME Team. I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in public and global health, as well as in international development more broadly, to apply to the Cambridge Global Health Scheme.