Never underestimate the power of a cold email. While looking for an internship that integrated my interest in health with communication theory, I came across the non-profit division of St. Jude Medical Center. Not even knowing if they had an intern position available, I emailed the director of the program saying how much I admired the work the organization was doing, and my personal goals within the health communication field. Within a week, I was working remotely with the director and a multi-agency diabetes collaborative on creating a health campaign that would increase diabetes awareness and prevention within Orange County. Diabetes is a growing health concern, especially in Orange County (it is expected to affect 13.5% of the population by 2040!). While losing weight, exercising, and eating healthy are the main means by which to prevent diabetes, many people lack the access, motivation, and ability to do so.
With these ideas in mind, I began to draft a campaign that both increased self efficacy as well as connected recipients to community resources. While at first I felt overwhelmingly unprepared, I started to view the campaign as a research project, and applied the same methods as I would to any other project. In doing so, I realized just how applicable many of the skills I had learned in my communication classes were to this project! For example, I knew I needed to conduct thorough formative research to understand what had been done in this area and what was still lacking, just I had learned to do when writing a literature review. I formed the basis of the campaign around several different communication theories that I had learned about in Theories of Persuasion, Mass Communication Theories, and Intro to Health Communication. When I got stuck creating some of the messages for the campaign, I remembered what I had learned in Training and Consulting in Healthcare Contexts about the importance of creating objectives, so I took a step back and wrote out what I wanted the campaign to accomplish, then worked from there. I utilized my public speaking skills when presenting my ideas to various groups who were also working on the project. At every stage in the campaign, there appeared some connection to communication content that I had studied. It is often a struggle to explain to others exactly what value studying communication holds. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Wait, you’re just learning how to talk better?” I would be a very rich person. Therefore, to see all of the practical applications of what I had been learning about in the past three years was incredibly encouraging.
Though I learned so many useful skills that will serve me well in the future, my biggest takeaway from the internship is the power of communication to create tangible change. One day, this campaign that I played a small part in may inspire someone to make healthier choices, or connect them to a local diabetes management class. Having knowledge is one thing, but being able to transfer that knowledge into a project that helps people is incredible to experience. This campaign just gave me a small taste of the things that can be accomplished with a bit of strategic communication, and left me excited for whatever project is next on the horizon.
My encouragement to those seeking out an internship is to simply take initiative! You never know where an unexpected email can take you. During your internship, look for ways to apply what you have learned into the real world- you will be surprised how many skills are helpful! Continue seeking knowledge in order to accomplish new tasks. Overall, be proud of what you are studying, and find ways to integrate it into things you are passionate about!
About Me: My name is Megan Norris, and I am currently finishing up my B.A. in Communication Studies and Minor in Spanish Studies. I am looking forward to furthering my communication knowledge next year as a graduate student in Health and Strategic Communication. Besides health and communication, I am passionate about hiking, crafts, and making cheese plates!