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On the Path to Migrant Health: Christine Cocca and Serving the Underserved

Christine Cocco[Editor’s Note: This post is part of our occasional series profiling the work of young clinicians and health justice activists who work with Migrant Clinicians Network.]

This week, Christine Cocca finished a year-long internship with Migrant Clinicians Network’s Environmental and Occupational Health team in Salisbury, Maryland. Christine was with us as part of her final year completing her undergraduate degree in social work at Salisbury University.   She now celebrates graduation, before heading off to Rutgers University to begin her Master’s degree in social work in the fall. 

“It was a really good experience, learning about how nonprofits are funded, how grants are written,” Christine said of her internship.  She pointed to her participation in the multi-year advocacy work MCN has done to secure a stronger Worker Protection Standard as a highlight of her learning.  “Our work on the Worker Protection Standard showed me how to advocate for policy change, how policy really is changed, and how those changes affect the community,” she noted. 

MCN’s Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) internships open the door for students to see the the unique safety and health concerns that immigrant workers face at on the job, whether at a nail salon or in a field of strawberries, and the needs of the clinicians who serve them. “Our interns engage in an important aspect of migrant health and see the intersection of work, health and the environment in new ways.  They begin to see how policy impacts worker health and the advocacy and programmatic efforts that are need to achieve health justice for immigrant workers and their families,” said Amy K. Liebman, MPA, MA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health, who oversees the EOH internship program. “We have been so pleased to have a student from the School of Social Work join us. She has done an exceptional job!”

Christine chose Migrant Clinicians Network for her internship based on her preference for policy, advocacy, and nonprofit management over the more clinically-leaning internship offerings from Salisbury University, but she was the first in her major to do so: “MCN was one of the first ones that my advisor had in mind for me -- but she did say, ‘We’ve never placed anyone there, so if you want to take the risk…’”

The risk paid off, and now Christine will continue on her path, with a concentration in management and policy. “I like the idea of creating change on a greater scale,” she said. While the clinical side of social work focuses on the problems at the individual level, she feels her future work will be more effective “when looking at the problems within the system, rather than the individual, seeking a broader intervention.”

Kerry Brennan, MCN’s Environmental and Occupational Health Program Manager and Christine’s supervisor, felt the year-long experience was a valuable one for both Christine and MCN. “It was a really good experience having someone for a full year. It’s beneficial for interns to see the process of how a project is developed, evaluated, and revised. When they’re with us long enough, they have a greater understanding of our work and are able to offer ideas and do problem solving with us,” she noted. “Christine was an exceptional intern. She did so much for our grants reporting and it was an asset to have another person with Spanish language skills in the office.”

Christine’s next internship will be at Upward Bound, a program for inner-city high school youth. The program offers summer intensives and school year mentoring and tutoring and other programs to prepare at-risk teens for a university future. 

Although Christine isn’t sure where her graduate studies will eventually take her, it’s clear that with her solid skill set and her passion for making change on the policy level, Christine will be a great asset to the social justice community.

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