This summer, Melanie Gaynes ’13 is working on public health projects that could potentially touch many people’s lives.
With a summer fellowship to support her internship at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gaynes is one of many students on campus who are pursuing internships or research in the professional fields they’re interested in.
For her first project at the CDC, Gaynes is analyzing tobacco rates among ethnic and racial minorities in southern Maine. She expects to find relatively high smoking rates in these groups that could help justify an increase in targeted smoking cessation programs.
She’s also developing a website to serve as a resource for healthcare providers who treat the local immigrant population. The site will include dental and vision resources, as well as list nutrition education and mental health services. “It’ll make it easier for professionals to make referrals if they know whether a clinic has language services or accepts patients with no insurance,” Gaynes said. “Because of language needs and insurance status, it’s harder for people to make [patient] referrals. It’s a huge issue in Maine because of the changing population here.”
Funded by a fellowship from the Forest Foundation and overseen by the Mckeen Center for the Common Good, Gaynes says the internship is a good opportunity to get a look inside the public health field. “I want to get a sense of what public health professionals do, so I can decide what I should do. Do I want to be an epidemiologist or a public health researcher? And then I can figure out what kind of schooling I need.” She says she’s considering getting a medical degree and master’s degree in public health after she graduates next year.
Gaynes also says the internship is giving her a glimpse of the state’s response to a changing population. Maine has a growing number of refugees and immigrants from such places as Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Serbia.“Here we are in a new time in Maine,” she said. “There’s demographic changes and we have to figure out how we can adapt to meet the health needs of a growing and increasingly diverse population in Maine.”
Gaynes is a sociology major and chemistry minor from Atlanta, Ga., as well as a former McKeen Fellow responsible for overseeing Weekend Service Trips. Through her time at Bowdoin and her study abroad in Chile, she’s developed a deep interest in public health. “I have been interested in science for a while, but I never saw myself practicing medicine. Public health gives me a way to combine my interest in science with sociology,” Gaynes said. “Learning about health disparities in Chile and the U.S. made me want to work more on a systems level instead of on an individual level.”
Next year, for her honors project, Gaynes will study the healthcare system in West Virginia, where residents’ health is often impacted by the heavy mining industry. Her interest in that state was fostered by two Alternative Spring Break trips she went on there. “I’m drawn to the field of public health because it’s so interdisciplinary,” she said. “There’s so many facets, so many things that make a system work or not work.”