by Nguyen Pham, 2010 APAICS Intern
Surrounded by thousands of proud Americans who packed the National Mall for the Independence Day fireworks spectacular, one of my first experiences in DC was camping out on the Mall on Fourth of July. As the sky grew darker, the crowd also grew–a sea of families, couples, and summer interns. That I was sitting right beside the Washington Monument, listening to the outdoor concert blare country music, and watching the lights in the sky above our nation’s capital all contributed to an incredible feeling. I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment marked the beginning of a summer full of incredible experiences that I wouldn’t have known anywhere else in the world.
Interning at the Department of Veterans Affairs has offered me a wealth of different experiences, including learning to be in a professional environment. This professionalism, however, is not always the rule of thumb. There was a Sunday when the VA’s Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Tammy Duckworth, held a social event at her place that some of the VA interns attended. So excited to be meeting important figures on the DC scene, some of the other APAICS Interns and I talked about getting ready for days. We wore our crispest shirts and nicest shoes. We went up to the 25th floor, the penthouse. As soon as we stepped into the room, we realized everyone else was dressed in tank tops and flip flops. We looked like the biggest interns you’ve ever seen in DC. Professionals are people too.
I’ve also had the great opportunity to spend time at the VA Washington DC Medical Center, learning about programs for homeless veterans. Ending veterans’ homelessness is one of the VA’s priorities, and there are many different programs that VA employs to achieve this goal.
I attended two events in Montgomery County regarding new programs. One event was about setting up a telemental health service in the County. Telemental health operates like a video conference between a doctor and a patient, so that the doctor may see patients from off-site locations. Mental health programs are also very important to the VA, as suicide prevention is another top priority. It was great for me to see that this simple and very efficient technology is being incorporated into patient care. Another event was to discuss setting up a Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, a very basic functional clinic with a doctor, a nurse, a staffer, and the bare minimum equipment, in Montgomery County. The purpose of this clinic is the same as for the telemental health service, to provide access to veterans who cannot come to the Medical Center in DC.
Outside of work at the VA, my experience as part of the APAICS Summer Internship program has been invaluable. Our intern class has had opportunities like meeting Secretary Norman Mineta, one of the APAICS founders, and hearing his personal accounts of his childhood and time as a Cabinet member. We have all grown in our professional skills, leadership abilities, and personal talents. One of the best parts of APAICS for me has been getting to know other interns so well over the course of a single summer. In DC, you hear the “n” word (networking) thrown around aplenty. I know the members of my intern class are future civic leaders, and our shared experiences have tied us together in an incredible network we can call upon in the future years.
Nguyen Pham is a 2010 APAICS Summer Intern in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Corporate Senior Executive Management Office. She is a rising senior studying Human Biology with a focus in the application of human behavior to public policy issues at Stanford University.