UNC public health students help prevent blindness in Vietnam

When Michael Wilson and Casey McCormick first began searching for public health internships, they both knew they wanted to go abroad.

Now, with a departure to Vietnam set for Sunday, the students’ dreams are about to come true.

As students in the Gillings School of Global Public Health master’s program, Wilson and McCormick were required to find summer internships — and the two classmates agreed to collaborate in their search for international work.

The pair applied for internships with Helen Keller International, a large public health organization dedicated to preventing blindness and reducing malnutrition with a variety of programs in communities around the world.

Wilson and McCormick will leave Sunday to work in Vietnam for two months with ChildSight, an HKI program that provides eye exams and prescription eyeglasses to 15 schools in the Kon Tum province.

They said they were drawn to the program because of its concentration on children.

“Kids are definitely my focus,” said McCormick, who plans to specialize in infectious disease prevention in infants and adolescents.

“I hope (the internship) will give me an idea about what to expect as a career,” she said.

Wilson said he wants to work with children and health behavior. He is currently the U.S. director of New Hope Haiti Mission, a nonprofit that runs an orphanage in Haiti.

“I think this will just be one more experience that will hopefully guide me and help me figure out what population and what region of the world I want to work in,” he said.

Wilson said he and McCormick will explore how they can better implement the ChildSight program in schools by doing quantitative evaluations.

“To actually get in the field and get our hands dirty — to actually use some evaluation and some implementation — I think will be really valuable,” Wilson said.

In addition to conducting evaluations, the two will spearhead the implementation of a nutrition program to coincide with the existing eyesight program, McCormick said.

She said the new program will be an important addition for participants because poor diet can affect eyesight.

Kathy Spahn, HKI’s president, said in an email that the organization chose McCormick and Wilson for their innovation and optimism.

“What stood out to us about Casey and Michael was not only their enthusiasm for learning and their passion for the HKI mission, but also their understanding that their experiences from the field can be used to empower and educate those in their own communities,” she said.

Wilson said the School of Public Health has been helpful in the process of preparing for the internship.

“Just their general support of their health students traveling and having these opportunities — it’s really meaningful,” he said.

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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