CGHH intern at WHO HQ reports on her recent activity

Posted on 16 February 2017

Sara Birch-Ares, a former student of the University of York affiliated with the Centre for Global Health Histories, reports on her recent activity as an intern at WHO HQ in Geneva.

Sara Birch-Ares, a recent graduate of the University of York associated with the Centre for Global Health Histories, has written about her recent experience as a WHO intern. Internships at WHO HQ in Geneva can be difficult to obtain, with large numbers of applicants annually. Interns work across the organisation, and are linked to many different areas of technical and administrative work in all departments. This can include Medicine, Public Health and Social projects. Sara provides us with glimpses into WHO's working environment and her role there:

The work

My work was a good mix involving a reasonable amount of typical administrative tasks, including taking minutes of meetings, proof reading documents and putting together the department newsletter. In addition to this I took on a personal project at the beginning of the internship, which was to compile a history of the ethical discourse promoted by the department within a research ethics capacity.

On balance I appreciate that I was given a good deal of scope to choose the direction of the project myself, in an effort to make the finished product as useful to my personal development as possible. Furthermore, other staff members within the unit and other departments have made time to speak with me and advise on the project, which I hugely appreciate.

In terms of professional progression, I was able to network with fellow interns with similar interests and in similar areas of work as those I wished to explore. This meant I was able to explore my future career options with people who had experience but were also at a similar point in their careers to myself, which I feel has been very insightful.

The WHO environment

A huge benefit of this internship was the WHO environment within which I worked. Staff members and consultants are very friendly and open to helping proactive interns with both project and career advice.

The other highlight of the work environment is the number of talks and events within the WHO and UN at large which are open to intern attendance. These vary from informal lunchtime talks to summarise research findings to official global summits on health issues (such as a very interesting one on Ageing which I attended) with experts, campaigners and politicians from around the globe. I aimed to attend as many of these possible, as they gave an insight not just on the topic at hand but also the workings of international diplomatic organisations. I would highly recommend these to prospective interns.

There is also a strong community of interns who organise weekly social events and expert talks, as well as a ‘French language lunch’ for all level of speakers to practice, and the occasional group trip to explore the areas surrounding Geneva. This is a huge asset to WHO internships in particular, as many other UN agencies do not have a comparable degree of organisation or community amongst their interns.

Would I recommend it?

I would definitely recommend this internship as it has provided a huge opportunity for me and one that I am very grateful for. I met some wonderful people and undertook some fascinating work, all whilst being able to live in and explore a new city, something of a dream for me (and most other recent graduates too, I would imagine).

The WHO-collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories at the University of York wish to congratulate Sara on successfully attaining and completing her internship with the World Health Organization in Geneva. The centre hopes that this is the start of a long and rewarding career.


You can find out more about WHO internships, including how to apply, on their website.

You can also learn more about CGHH’s links with the WHO on our website.

In particular, there is information about CGHH-supported applications to the WHO internship scheme available on the MA in Medical History and Humanities website.