Derek Burghardt: Seeing What Public Health Is

Derek stands and smiles in the hallway of a clinic.

“If the extent of your involvement in school is going to be showing up to class and then going home, you might as well not bother. Getting involved outside of class is the best thing I’ve done.”

Derek Burghardt, a public health major who transferred to UB a year ago, has found that opportunities to practice what you learn in the classroom are invaluable. One day after class, he decided to go up to the professor and ask if there was anything he could get involved in outside of class. That professor was Jessica Kruger, a professor in the School of Public Health, and she asked if he’d be interested in volunteering in the student-run, free medical clinic that she advises. Next thing he knew, he was at a training, and the very next day he was at the clinic, talking to real patients and working alongside medical and social work students. “I truthfully didn’t know what I was in for, but that’s life. You have to learn on the fly, which is the best kind of learning.”

Derek has been working at the clinic every Wednesday since then, and his responsibilities have grown. Along with the general duties of getting a behavioral health background from patients and presenting to the medical students, he now trains new undergraduate public health volunteers and works with the data they receive from their online survey.

Through this unexpected opportunity, Derek now understands far more about his field. “I wanted to see what public health does. You can explain it all day long in a classroom setting, which is fine, but what do we do? What is public health? Now I’m actually starting to realize what public health is, and that’s through my work in the clinic.”

Hands-on learning, like Derek’s opportunity to volunteer in the clinic, can help you dig deeper into what you’ve learned and can even shine a light onto paths you might want to take. Visit the ELN in 17 Norton to get connected to opportunities like this one!


Written by Amanda Hellwig ‘19