MPH Student Builds Skills Working with Immigrants and Refugees

Sampada Mudgalkar poses for a picture while holding a human skull that was quarantined at O'Hare from a passenger's baggage.

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, direct international flights are inbound daily from every continent except Antarctica.  At the arrivals terminal, Customs and Border Patrol agents are front and center, along with Homeland Security.  In the background, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention play their own critical role addressing public health challenges accompanying temporary and permanent residents entering the country.

Sampada Mudgalkar, MPH in Community Health Sciences student, completed her applied practice experience with the CDC Chicago Quarantine station at O’Hare, completing a mix of tasks from distributing emergency drugs to arriving passengers, monitoring medical information of immigrants, working with local health departments and coordinating with airlines.

“I am an international student myself and an immigrant, and while I don’t go through a lot of struggles like many immigrants do, I still feel connected to them,” Mudgalkar said.  “I have a passion in me to help.”

One of her primary tasks at O’Hare was reviewing medical packets from immigrants that want to settle in the United States.  These packets provide a check for diseases the CDC considers to be public health challenges, such as tuberculosis.  Mudgalkar says she enjoyed reviewing these packets and serving on the front lines of helping immigrants begin their adjustment to US culture.

She also managed the creation of the CDC’s airline partner chain database, an effort to build points of contact for every international airline operating at O’Hare.  She focused on streamlining the CDC’s interactions with airlines, updating old contacts and checking with airlines as to their needs for public health training.

“Many airlines said they received public health training from the CDC 15 years ago,” Mudgalkar said. “One of the things I realized is that there has to be continuous communication and reminders of what to look for in their passengers.”

Mudgalkar aims to work for an immigrant rights organization after graduating from UIC and says the applied practice experience is a big step toward accomplishing her career goal.

“I’ve learned a bit about what kinds of issues refugees and immigrants will be facing,” she said.  “With this experience and the refugee and immigrant organizations I have networked with, and my work with the International Organization for Migration at the airport, I think this has inspired me to work toward a career in this area.”