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Eirnin Mahoney

Eirnin Mahoney

Class Of 2024

Infection Prevention Intern, University of Maryland Medical Center

Briefly describe what you did for your Applied Experience and any highlights.

Over the summer, I worked on a project to investigate and attempt to decrease the spread of waterborne bacterial infections through tap water in the hospital. Bacteria grows in every sink, and we are all exposed all the time, but while we stay healthy, immunocompromised people in the hospital are at risk of contracting severe infections. To investigate the practices of healthcare workers to prevent these waterborne infections, I did observational surveys of four high-risk units in the hospital. With the help of my mentor in the Infection Prevention Department, I also designed an information sheet about preventing waterborne infections that was distributed to the staff of those four units.

How has your experience informed your understanding of public health?

This experience opened my eyes to the complexities of maintaining a safe hospital environment, where something as simple as tap water can represent an infectious disease risk. And beyond just determining risks and possible solutions, prompting an institutional response is more complex than I could have imagined, requiring collaboration across hospital departments such as maintenance and labs. My internship also led me to recognize the difficulties of coordinating a local frontline response to disease outbreaks, such as the monkeypox outbreak that we witnessed this summer. As I attended Infection Prevention Department meetings, I observed that the hospital, local clinics, and city and state health departments were all in constant communication about individual patients, testing procedures, and isolation requirements. As public health students or patients in the healthcare system, we often lack an understanding of how a simple diagnostic test could trigger a flurry of phone calls and policy changes across the city.

How does this experience align with your future goals?

In the future, I hope to work for a health department or other government public health agency, with a focus on implementing practical strategies to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. My internship helped me confirm that I’m on the right career path because I found the work to be pretty exciting, even though I spent a lot of my time just looking at sinks!

How do you think your time at JHU prepared you for this work?

The core Public Health Studies courses at JHU were very helpful in setting the foundation for my internship. Through them, I learned about key concepts in epidemiology, which proved to be important in my understanding of the spread of disease at the hospital. During my classes, I’ve also learned about the complex, patchwork nature of the U.S. public health system, which set me up to gain an even more sophisticated understanding of its interlocking (and sometimes conflicting) parts during my internship.