My Summer at the WHO

“The eighth floor gardens of the World Health Organization HQ, in Geneva, Switzerland”

As a McMaster Health Forum Fellow for the 2012 – 2013 academic year, I had the incredible opportunity to wrap up my Forum fellowship activities with an internship at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland from May to July this summer. The WHO is an exciting place to be in spring and summer, with many major meetings occurring, such as the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board meeting, and with a huge intern community which provides endless opportunities and events.

I interned at a WHO partnership called the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research. My primary project for the summer was writing a paper on evaluating a large, multi-day conference held in Beijing in 2012 called the 2nd Annual Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, using in-conference questionnaires and in-conference and post-conference interviews. As the in-conference data collection had been completed by past interns, I was responsible for conducting about 45 post-conference telephone interviews with researchers and policymakers who attended the symposium from all over the world. In addition to this challenging and interesting task, I was also responsible for taking the first draft of the paper written by myself and the interns who conducted the in-conference data collection, and transforming it into a cohesive final draft. This opportunity gave me invaluable experience working with qualitative data, as well as working in a team to produce a publication-worthy paper on a relatively new field of research.

“The World Health Organization HQ on a sunny spring day”

Though my day-to-day work at the WHO involved conducting telephone interviews and researching and writing, there were many additional learning opportunities outside the office. Regular Experts4Interns sessions, set up by the Intern Board, provided interns with the opportunity to learn more about work done at the WHO outside of their own departments, through presentations by WHO staff members about their work and areas of expertise. In addition, I attended lunch-time sessions where guest speakers from outside the WHO spoke about different topics. At the World Health Assembly (WHA), I had the opportunity to work at the Alliance’s booth, where I was able to engage with policymakers from around the world and field questions about the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, and provide them with Alliance publications and resources. My most memorable moment at the WHA was at an evening session on the topic of health of the world’s girls, the first ever youth-led side session to take place at the WHA, organized by the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association. The conversation was engaging and the presenters were knowledgeable. I was incredibly excited when Director General (DG) Margaret Chan stopped by the event briefly and sat beside me, before making a short speech and leaving to attend another meeting. What a pleasant surprise it was to sit beside the DG herself!

“View from the viewing gallery at the Palais des Nations for a World Health Assembly plenary session”

Outside of the office, I had a wonderful time exploring Switzerland. The intern community organizes many after-work events such as soccer matches, dinners and picnics in the park so there is never a shortage of things to do. Geneva has much to offer. Some personal favourites included: GeneveRoule!, a program run by the city that allows anyone to rent a bike, free of charge, for four hours to explore the city and surrounding area; L’AMR aux Cropettes, a free outdoor jazz festival in one of Geneva’s many beautiful parks; and, Ciné Transat, which offers free outdoor film screening (in English!) in a beautiful park on the lake. From weekend trips to hikes in the Swiss Alps, to picnics by the lake, Switzerland is a beautiful place to be in the summer.

“A bike from MeyrinRoule! (a local version of GeneveRoule!) overlooking the Rhone River”

I have been given countless learning opportunities over the past two and a half months to gain new knowledge, improve my skills and make lasting connections, and I am sure that the lessons I’ve learned, as well as the friends I’ve made, will stay with me long past the end of this summer.

By Emily Milko, Fellow and Student Subcommittee Co-Chair 2012-2013, McMaster Health Forum Student Subcommittee

“Geneva’s famous Jet d’Eau”


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