World Health Organization (Co-Sponsored with the Harvard Global Health Institute)

Please Note: This internship is co-sponsored. This means that the funding for this internship is provided by two institutions at Harvard. The Primary Affiliation is with HGHI, and the Secondary Affiliation is with the IOP. The primary institute will be the point of contact during the application and internship onboarding process, and applications for this placement will be processed by HGHI.

In order to apply, you need to have completed three years of full-time studies (i.e. be a rising senior) and be at least twenty years old by March 1, 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland is the specialized agency within the United Nations (UN) that directs and coordinates international public health. WHO’s work on patient safety coordinates, disseminates, and accelerates improvements worldwide in patient safety, which is a critical global healthcare issue. The program also provides a vehicle for international collaboration and action between Member States, the Secretariat, technical experts, and consumers, as well as professionals and industry groups. WHO Patient Safety delivers a number of programs covering topics including Global Patient Safety Challenge on Medication Safety; implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution ‘Global action on patient safety’, World Patient Safety Day, patient safety leadership, policies and legislation; safety culture; education and training; assessments, research and measurement; global patient safety networks; tools and checklists; reporting and learning; patient and family engagement including Patients for Patient Safety; safer primary care; and safe childbirth and surgical safety checklists. This internship offers a Harvard undergraduate the opportunity to work directly in WHO Patient Safety and Risk Management Unit. The intern will contribute to one or more projects concerning implementation of the WHA resolution (WHA 72.6) “Global action on Patient Safety”, marking the World Patient Safety Day, Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm, Patient Safety Curriculum Guide, Global Patient Safety Network, Incident reporting and learning and Global Patient Safety Collaborative. There is potential to continue the work after returning to campus in the fall, in conjunction with faculty at the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Summer Project

Provide support in accelerating global action on patient safety (WHA 72.6).


Briefing notes, conducting literature reviews, preparing presentations, assist in preparing for global consultations, assist in developing campaign materials for World Patient Safety Day, coordinating and documenting activities.


  • Interest in public health/global health, health science background preferable
  • Comprehensive reader
  • Computer literate
  • Excellent written and verbal communication
  • Enthusiasm and initiative

Work Environment

International multicultural office environment, close-knit working unit. Other intern(s) in unit.


Level of supervision varies on the level of independence and initiative expressed by the individual.


The Dates of this internship are usually about May 15 - August 18.

Additional Requirements

The recipient will need to complete an application through the WHO Stellis application system and most recipients will need a visa.  


2018 Intern Reflection:

Every day in unique at WHO. Whether you arrive in time for the World Health Assembly (held in the beginning of May each year), or you start afterwards, you will always be on your toes when it comes to the work you do here. I have had the amazing opportunity to meet so many high-level people, interact with other motivated interns and staff members, attend weekly educational seminars and high level meetings by experts, and so much more.

Be prepared to throw the terms of reference out the window, because you will be working only on what is considered "high priority" during your time at the internship (which is basically everything). I enjoyed the opportunity to work under a highly accomplished supervisor and assist in a variety of projects ranging from developing a Global Patient Safety Network to preparing for a high-level expert meeting to brainstorm and develop new proposals and tools to be used by organization and countries alike in the future. Having said that, you can feel a bit lost at times, because your tasks might be accomplished in a day, a week, or a month, and there's no telling how long or how intricate the process might be. That is part of the learning process, and an eye-opener for anyone who wants to learn more about how a large international organization accomplishes its tasks.

Danielle Etzel '19

2017 Intern Reflection:

This summer, I am working in the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Unit at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. I am working on a variety of different projects, ranging from the development of an international network of stakeholders in patient safety to facilitate global collaboration to compiling and collecting national policies from all Member States. My primary project is focusing on assessing the burden of unsafe health care globally and trying to support it with the most recent data through an extensive literature review.

Varun Varshney '19 

Geneva, Switzerland