An Inside Look at a Virtual International Health Internship

Are you looking to do an international health internship but can’t go abroad? USAC’s virtual internship program offers a variety of opportunities for health students to complete an internship for an international health company without leaving the U.S.

So what does a virtual health internship look like? Clearly you can’t get out there in the field like you would if you were in person, but there is still value for companies and students in participating in a virtual health internship. To understand what this opportunities looks like, we spoke with HealthNet Foundation in Khon Kaen, Thailand who offers health internships to USAC students. The Program Manager, Miss Thippawan Mokpa answered some questions about what you can expect when you participate in an in-person or virtual internship opportunity with HealthNet.

About HealthNet

HealthNet is a non-profit private organization for public benefit. It was established to address the need for local organizations that would proceed and extend the form of collective multilateral promotion and support for the work on health issues particularly AIDS. For 18 years, it had been working under the name AIDSNet and was changed to ‘HealthNet’ only recently to be able to address other health and social issues in the communities in the northeastern region of Thailand.

HealthNet in Khon Kaen province works with other NGOs with health related issues in the 20 provinces in the northeast of Thailand. The organization coordinates financial, technical information and technological resources from government, non-government, private sector international organizations to support AIDS and sexual health related works. Moreover, HealthNet also collaborates with small groups of NGOs, medium NGOs, and large NGOs.

What does a health internship (which can be very hands-on) look like as a virtual opportunity?

It was challenging at first seeing as our experiences with international interns have always been in person. Interns have always physically worked with us in the office and also joined us in the field trips. Most of our activities that are related to health promotion require us to work in the local communities in different provinces in the northeast of Thailand so we got to travel quite often. Eventually, we determined that the opportunity to have a virtual intern was a great way to help the marketing of our programs and to encourage our staff to use English at work.

I still believe that student interns will be able to cultivate insightful knowledge if they can come and physically work with the community because they will be able to get first-hand experience from their observation. I think that working in health promotion, it is still essential to get to know the community and its environment because it’s all about real people and their health concerns.

What are some tasks/projects that a virtual intern works on during their time with your company?

Seeing as most of our activities, for example, workshops, training, and health-related-issue demonstrations are conducted in local communities, our staff has to travel a lot. This means that we have little time to do public relations for the organization’s promotion, let alone in English. Virtual interns help with updating our Facebook page and translating information on our website into English. Having an English version of our website is crucial in being able to promote our organization to international readers.

What skills/opportunities can a student learn during a virtual internship with your company?

At first, the student has to learn about the structure of the organization, our missions, our activities, and our on-going projects. The student will learn about that information when they do the translation for our website. They also have to update and create the English version of posts to our Facebook page. By doing that, they’ll learn and keep updated with the projects that we’re working on at the moment. We try to also arrange Zoom meetings regularly so that the intern can ask any questions concerning our projects and discuss their ideas with us.

What does an international health internship offer that a domestic health internship does not?

For us, English language communication obviously; that’s the first thing. As all communications between the organization and the student must only be in English so it’s compulsory for our staff to use English. I think it’s a benefit for us because at work we don’t use English at all and have too little opportunity to use it in our working environment. With the student intern from the U.S., we’re quite excited to be able to speak and write in English, even some short messages via our Line group. I hope that our local staff will get some sense of the international working environment.

For the intern, I hope that this is the opportunity to learn about health issues in Thailand which I believe must be quite different from the U.S. We have some limitations in health promotion and some health issues derive from local beliefs and ways of life. I think it is interesting for foreigners to learn about these issues.

Why is having an American intern valuable to your company?

American students can help us in creating, translating and proofreading our English contents. Also, they can help us find updated information regarding health promotion in the West. That would be a good opportunity for both of us to exchange information. We, as a local health promotion organization, would also need to be constantly updated with the international trends to be able to develop our work and broaden the opportunity to work at the international level. But we don’t only want to receive benefits from the students, we want to give something back to the interns as well.

How are you keeping projects organized and communicating with your intern?

We mainly communicate via emails. However, as I have to travel a lot so I may not have time to check emails frequently; at the moment, we have created a Line group with all the staff in the office and the student intern joining so we can communicate. Thai people use Line application a lot more for work and personal contact.

What tips do you have for students to be successful with a virtual internship?

Constant communication is crucial. As the student cannot be with us here physically, the communication must be even more active and regular. It doesn’t have to always be formal but continuous communication is essential. Another thing is that the student should learn about basic information, the works and activities of the organization before the internship begins so that they have some ideas about how we operate. With the background knowledge, they will be able to exchange ideas and ask questions regarding what we’re doing. This will assure they get the most value from the internship as possible.

Explore USAC’s in-person and virtual international health internships.