ESU Alum and Master’s Student Andre Gomes Gets Internship of Global Proportions and Experiences World Public Health Issues
Briefcase slung over his shoulder, crisp dark suit, ID badge around his neck, Andre Gomes is standing in front of a huge graphic at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Looking energetic and much younger than his 49 years, Gomes is ready to take on a steep learning curve of how the organization deals with the critical public health issues facing the world.
For Gomes, a graduate student in ESU’s master’s in public health program, an international internship with the world’s premier public health organization seemed like a logical next step – in both fulfilling the internship requirement for his degree and serving as an opportunity to explore a career in public health. Undaunted by intense international competition, he applied and was accepted for the prestigious three-month internship program in Geneva, where the United Nations agency mandated to lead the world on global public health is located.
In fact, Gomes doesn’t seem to be daunted by much, including leaving his family for three months, accepting an unpaid internship and living in a youth hostel (Gomes’ is responsible for all of his own travel and living expenses). His Gofundme page is at http://www.gofundme.com/77g9ko).
But, Gomes is not quite a typical ESU student.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he came to the U.S. in 1985 at the age of 21. A carpenter and builder in the family business, he later went to work for the New York transit system. After moving to the Poconos, he changed careers to become a certified massage therapist. Along the way, he had four sons.
With his interest in public health sparked, Gomes went on to earn his B.S. in public health at ESU in 2012 and continued in the graduate program. He will receive his master’s degree this summer.
According to Alberto Cardelle, Ph.D., ESU interim dean of the college of health sciences and a professor of health studies, the WHO internship is extremely prestigious, and is, if not the first ever for an ESU student, the first in the past 15 years.
Gomes is working in WHO’s department of communications, with colleagues from Bulgaria, Canada, India, Germany, Kenya, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and the U.S.
Gomes feels that speaking Portuguese as well as English was a plus in netting the position and could be an asset for dealing with heath policy not just in Brazil, but also in African countries such as Angola and Mozambique where Portuguese is spoken. His graduate research project in epidemiology in the Dominican Republic where he interviewed doctors and health offices, also helped, he said.
Cardelle said Gomes’ understanding of the developing world will be a real asset. Calling Gomes mature and professional, Cardelle cites his persistence and ability to adapt to different circumstances.
Gomes’ job at WHO is both challenging and interesting. With a fellow intern, he got a short assignment to research media penetration in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Sudan and Yemen in order to prepare WHO missions in support to national officials for dealing with the press. He has also been tasked to support the WHO Department of Communications on projects of increasing complexity. As part of the communications capacity building unit, he will be engaged in literature review and online desk research – a strand of the team’s work on developing knowledge about research areas in risk communications and disaster/emergencies preparedness and response.
“It’s the kind of detective work that I really like,” he said. “Next week we are going to relocate for a few days to drill risk-communications scenarios on a Swiss army base. The exercise is to prepare those who are going to be deployed in dangerous zones with outbreaks and civil unrest.
“What an incredible chance I have to be in this internship with this team, exactly during the time of this training. It will give me a lot of opportunities to learn, and I am committed to share with the WHO colleagues everything I know from my previous work experience.”
Geneva is a gracious city with a 4,000-year history and spectacular views of the Alps and Lake Geneva. With some 40 percent of its inhabitants being non-Swiss, it is also a bustling—and expensive — international community where housing is at a premium. Gomes is optimistic about having to lodge in a youth hostel and sharing a room with five others, although he will move into a tiny studio apartment in May.
Gomes described Geneva as having a pace that’s calm.
“My first impression was how kind and peaceful WHO workers are,” he said. “You don’t hear any complaints – at WHO or in Switzerland. Everyone is calm and helpful. The transportation system is very well organized, and you don’t experience delays or traffic jams. You buy a public pass for the whole month, and nobody checks to see if you have a pass or not. They trust you have one. Imagine this in NYC!”
Gomes said that with his WHO experience and his ESU master’s degree he feels he would be better prepared to launch his career in public health.
“ESU graduates work in a variety of settings: healthcare, human services, education, policy, statistics, research,” Cardelle said. “Unlike ESU, not all public health programs require internships, along with producing a paper of publishable quality. Ours is very hands-on. It makes you very marketable.”
Gomes also applauded the master’s program for its holistic viewpoint, connecting the individual, national and global perspectives.
“Everything is interesting, and it all works together,” he said.
And he is hopeful that the opportunity to intern at WHO will open doors for new networks and professional assignments.
“I have made contact with some important persons that come here to resolve human rights issues,” he said. “I met a young Brazilian lawyer representing a non-governmental organization that fights for Brazilian Indians’ rights. This week I will meet the former director of the Centers for Disease Control who is doing consulting work for WHO.”
With his sons now grown, (the youngest entering ESU in the fall), Gomes says he is applying for jobs in diverse locations and public health settings including immunology and epidemiology.
With a smile, he says, “Now that I have seen the global health picture, by being here at WHO, I am up for anything.”