Summer Centered: Tina Le ’19 Muses at the Mütter
The English major and health studies minor is researching the Spanish flu of 1918 and the impacts of the disease on Philadelphia.
For Tina Le ’19, an English major who started her college career thinking she wanted to pursue a career in medicine, spending this summer as an intern at the Mütter Museum is an ideal fusion of her interests.
With support from the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for Arts and Humanities, Le is researching the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 at the Museum and the affiliated College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
"The research that I’m doing at my internship at the Mütter Museum feels like the perfect amalgamation of my very different academic interests that have played out at Haverford,” said Le. “I’m essentially the quintessential liberal arts student because I thought I wanted to follow the pre-med track and pursue a career in medicine. Half way through my sophomore year, I realized that I wasn’t truly happy or engaged in those science classes. Instead, there was something really alluring and stimulating about sitting around a table to talk about books and literary themes and how they relate to everyday life. It was then that I realized that while, yes, I was still interested in the human body and the interesting pathologies that can arise, what I really was interested in were narratives.”
Le has plenty of opportunity to explore those narratives at her internship, where she examines the effects of the Spanish flu of 1918 in the City of Brotherly Love. The Spanish flu arrived concurrently with World War I, and is subsequently often overlooked in American history despite the over 50,000 casualties caused by the disease in Philadelphia alone. (By comparison, 10,278 Pennsylvanians died in combat in that war.)
"This internship allows me to think about the flu epidemic in its broad historical context while still allowing me room to look into the unique nuances that the flu had on different individuals from different backgrounds,” she said. “Being able to look at the epidemic from different perspectives has taught me to think more critically about not just the Spanish flu, but epidemics in general.”
For Le, a typical day on the job is spent reading through various sources on the subject and summarizing her findings in a spreadsheet or a research report.
"I have already learned so much from the internship and will continue to learn so much more,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot of specific and nuanced knowledge about the flu, but I’ve also learned a lot about how to properly — or inappropriately — respond to an epidemic, especially as it is breaking out. I’ve learned about the importance of a creating and delivering a narrative to the public, when something scary and unpredictable is on the horizon. I’ve developed really awesome research skills that will likely be helpful as I start working on my senior thesis.”
Looking ahead, Le says that her internship at the Mütter Museum has confirmed her interest in the intersections of public health and personal narrative.
"I’ve discovered through this internship that I am indeed very interested in public health policy and thinking through ways to improve the overall health of populations,” Le said. “Although the Spanish flu did occur 100 years ago, I don’t think that the public, the government, or the media would respond any differently if a similar epidemic broke out today. I’ve felt very fortunate to be able to immerse myself in this material that is simultaneously outdated and extremely relevant.”