Transformative Education
for Health Professionals

Broadening career horizons. A dental intern at the United Nations

Julian Fisher inteviews Gabriela Sardon, a young dentist from Peru about her experiences as an intern at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Geneva, Switzerland.

 1. With your experience at UNEP do you think that global health should be included in the dental undergraduate education curriculum? Specifically, social determinants of health and the health in all policies approach?

Absolutely. It is important to introduce this topic at an early stage to dental professionals so they can build on this concept throughout their entire career. As a dentist, I often got stuck on the technical side of my profession and forgot about the bigger definition of health. It is crucial to comprehensively understand the different conditions that predispose people to oral and systemic diseases.

There is a need for inter-sectoral collaboration to move towards health equity. Dental professionals need to know the importance of their role in this dynamic and what they can do to improve it. In dentistry we treat people and we handle chemical substances - there is a huge social and environmental responsibility that comes with our profession.

2. How important do you see an internship at WHO or a UN agencies in terms of preparing future leaders in oral health? As a recent intern what are your key messages for dentists interested in an internship?

The internship was a life changing experience for me. It is an opportunity where you get to learn from global leaders and how the different UN agencies collaborate with each other to achieve the same goal.

This offers you the opportunity to learn exactly what is involved in developing policies and the real world difficulties involved in implementing them.

I chose UN Environment because I wanted to gain a better understanding of the links between environment and health and how I could translate this into dentistry. UN Environment works closely with WHO so I was able to engage and work side by side with WHO representatives also. My experience as an intern went beyond my own expectations. Not only did I learn about environmental and health, but also other important areas such as stakeholder engagement, partnerships, and project management to name a few. 

I have a few messages for dentists that would like to be future interns at a UN agency. 

Don’t feel limited to your career. Yes, you will be exposed to broad topics but there is a huge advantage by coming from the health field. Be ready to constantly educate yourself to move along with your team. 

Explore and use your interpersonal skills. UN agencies are interested in having employees with good work ethics that can collaborate and communicate well. 

Be adaptable. You may work on your area of interest but sometimes in other topics that are not your top priority. The tasks you will get as an intern will vary depending on the work available. Welcome all these tasks, they are all opportunities to show your work and support to your assigned team.

Listen, learn, and use your voice. You will work with experts and participate in meetings with different stakeholders. Absorb everything you can from these interactions (perspectives, ideas, negotiations, etc). Don’t be shy to use your voice but know when to do so. 

3. How do you feel this internship and your experiences have influenced your future career options and opportunities? specifically with respect to networking

I have participated in dialogues and projects with stakeholders from the public and private sector, civil society and UN agencies. This has allowed me to network with a variety of experts from different fields that had a similar area of interest as my own.

Establishing good relationships with colleagues and partners has helped to enable job opportunities. I am currently working as a consultant for an independent evaluator and I have also been invited to collaborate with a workshop on dental amalgam in Thailand this year.

I feel that my scope for job options has broadened and I now have the ability to explore different fields such as public health, health policy, and environmental health.

I’m excited in all the career options I have available to me as a result of the networking, learning, and experience I have obtained through my time as an intern with the UN.