Students intern at local health departments, assist in COVID-19 response

Written by Alison Parkins on |
Travis Clary working on vaccine clinic on campus
Travis Clary, who is interning at the Grant County Health Department, assists at the vaccination clinics on campus.

A group of University of Wisconsin-Platteville students are gaining a valuable experience in the health care field, while making an impact in local communities’ response against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Travis Clary, a senior biology major from Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, is one of four students interning with the Grant County or Lafayette County health departments this semester. Clary works up to 16 hours each week for the Grant County Health Department, doing COVID-19 contact tracing, assisting at vaccination clinics and answering questions from the public. 

“This is probably the most beneficial thing I could have done, considering the situation,” said Clary. “A lot of pre-med students, and people trying to go into the medical field, have a lot of trouble right now finding medical experience because of COVID-19. People see all of this stuff going on and want to do something, but it’s hard to. This is a really awesome experience, because it’s a way I can start venturing into medicine.”

Clary said one of the most valuable experiences he will take away from the internship is the practice he gained interacting with patients. When making high volumes of contact tracing phone calls, he said he learned to be efficient with his time, while remaining sensitive to concerns and questions. 

“I’m extremely thankful that Jeff Kindrai, at the Grant County Health Department, and Julie Leibfried, at the Lafayette County Health Department, were willing to support four of our students during this time,” said Dr. Richard Dhyanchand, UW-Platteville professor of biology and coordinator of the students’ internships. “They have been extremely busy with testing, contact tracing and now vaccine clinics. It’s generous of them and their staff to take on working with our students, especially at this moment. In general, students have struggled finding health care experiences due to the pandemic. This is a wonderful opportunity for these students. The experiences gained by working in a public health setting like this will help them tremendously as they apply for medical school and other graduate programs. It’ll hopefully help them stand out.”

Clary plans to attend medical school and hopes to eventually practice family medicine.

“It’s really good to get as much experience as you can in a health care setting, because the more avenues you know of, the more you know about everything that goes into the health care system, which makes you more prepared,” said Clary. “This will make me a better provider at the end of the day.”

Another benefit, Dhyanchand added, is the exposure to the work of public health departments. 

“Additionally, the students get to see the importance of the non-COVID work that is done daily by our local health departments, as they try to address the health care needs of many of the people in our community that don’t have the ability to get health care at our local clinics and hospitals,” he said. 

“Working in this rural health department is huge, because I’ve learned how much work goes into it and have a deeper appreciation for the public health system in general,” agreed Clary. “I’m really going to look back at this experience and appreciate getting the chance to do this. It’s going to be tremendously impactful.”