A d V A N c E m E N t o f t H E Practice
inSiDe tHe ProFeSSion
The intern, Or: A Tale
of the Economy
rebecca Berg, Phd
A n Ideal Candidate
“We’re not going to be able to hire her,” Sandra Long said
mournfully. This was in December 2008, near the beginning
of the current economic downturn. “We’re not going to be able to hire
her although she’s talented, multilingual, and very enthusiastic about
The Economy Strikes Again
Does the economic crisis mean that Plano, like so many jurisdictions
these days, is under a hiring freeze?
Not explicitly, but in practice yes.
“The way it works here is the city will tell you that you have to trim X
environmental health.” percentage of your budget,” Collins said. “Over the years, we’ve trimmed
Long heads Inspection Services in the Plano, Texas, department of down so much in different programs that there’s nothing to trim any-
environmental health. Her department had just accepted an intern for more. It’s people now. Percentages equal people now, not programs.”
the spring, to train in the areas of food safety and consumer health. The internship lasted from January through the middle of April
The intern—who has asked to remain anonymous for this story, 2009. Xiang-Li graduated in May. And then what? Well, the department
so let’s call her Xiang-Li—is a native of China. She speaks Mandarin did hire her. But only temporarily. And only part time.
Chinese in addition to English and what she modestly characterizes as “That position, in the previous year’s budget, had been full time.
“intermediate Spanish.” When she contacted the Plano health depart- But it was knocked back to part time in order to meet our budget
ment, she was finishing a bachelor’s degree in public health at Texas goals,” Collins said. So Xiang-Li had a part-time job in her chosen
Women’s University, and she needed to complete an internship for her field from July through September.
last semester of school. Then the new fiscal-year budget came into place. The position was
“There were so many [internship] options,” she said. “I looked at eliminated entirely.
other options, but … I have always been interested in the sanitation
field. So I just called the department and asked if they needed an in- The Personal Cost
tern in the spring of ’09.” Xiang-Li is devoted to environmental health, and that is costing her.
She did not know exactly what the work would consist of. All she “It’s really tough right now,” she said. “I’ve been applying for full-
knew was that if somebody got sick from eating at a restaurant, the health time jobs. And it’s just not happening.”
department sent people to investigate. That intrigued her. Her goal is to work in a public health field. But if she can’t, she’s
As an intern, she accompanied environmental health specialists on looking for pretty much anything.
inspections, providing translations when needed. She learned to work In the meantime, she’s working at a leather-goods store. That job, too,
with food establishments and food workers. She learned to do plan is part time, and she has it only because she started while she was still in
reviews for new restaurants, as well as some pool inspections. She school, when times were better. She combined it with the 12 to 18 credit
helped draft a survey. She created Mandarin Chinese versions of some hours she was doing per semester, and it’s a lucky thing she did.
written materials. And she loved the job. Is it enough to pay the rent? What about groceries?
“I was able to interact with citizens and get to know them. In Plano No, it’s