Social Impact Internships: Anna Plank (’24)

Anna Plank

Hi! My name is Anna and I am a senior at MIT who is double majoring in biology and computation+cognition, with a minor in biomedical engineering. This IAP, I was granted the opportunity to work for the sustainability program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
(BIDMC), a Boston hospital. For this position, my work aimed to increase sustainability education among hospital employees and volunteers, creating easily-readable documents to distribute to people with little sustainability background in order to introduce them to the steps
BIDMC is taking to protect the environment.

The central social issue motivating my project is climate change. Healthcare unfortunately plays a large role in driving climate change, as a statistic I learned during my internship claims that hospitals and healthcare systems contribute to 8.5% of the US’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Many factors lead to this outcome, as certain processes, such as the usage of anesthetic gasses or the usage of steam for sterilization of tools, are important to the functions of hospitals and proper patient care. However, many of these same processes are limited by available technology, as no more climate-conscious approaches exist. Despite the current obstacles to eliminating GHG emissions in healthcare, hospitals are currently doing what they can to reduce these gasses.

Aware that GHG emissions can lead to climate change and the plethora of public health
issues it brings (such as the emergence and spread of infectious diseases, hospitalizations from
heat stroke and lung conditions, and trauma due to natural disasters), BIDMC has chosen to
seek ways to minimize their emissions. The hospital has set a goal of reaching net zero
emissions by 2050, meaning the amount of greenhouse gasses produced in a given year will be
equal to the amount of greenhouse gasses removed from the atmosphere. This is a hefty goal,
but since 2016, BIDMC has already seen a 42.5% reduction in energy-related GHG emissions,
and a 90% reduction in usage of anesthetic gasses.

I was very impressed and excited to learn that BIDMC is taking ambitious steps to
prevent climate change. Prior to this internship, I didn’t even know that hospitals had employees
whose jobs focus on sustainability, nor that so much action was being taken to reduce GHG

In addition to learning the steps BIDMC is taking to reach net zero, this internship has
also taught me about what it is like to work in the field of sustainability. As someone who has
always felt deeply motivated by the cause yet has always felt unsure of how to make a big
difference, this position has shown me that with the right resources and dedication, one can
pursue impactful actions in fighting climate change. Having worked on a small team with only
two full-time employees but significant progress in lowering BIDMC’s GHG emissions, this
internship has helped me realize that no number of people is too few to make a difference.

Additionally, this internship has helped me hone my ability to communicate effectively to
an audience with varying amounts of background experience. For the educational materials I
have made/modified (a powerpoint, a 1-pager, a video, and a website page), I have had to learn
relatively complicated concepts in the field of sustainability, full of jargon. I have then had to
break these complex ideas into more manageable chunks of information which people with no
sustainability background could understand. The ability to teach complex topics is something I
have always struggled with in my classes, but have been working to improve. I have TAed 3
classes at MIT, and took a class on presenting, and each of these helped me to grow more
confident and skilled in my ability to teach complex topics. However, this internship expanded upon this skill, as I learned how to teach complex topics using standalone documents/media,
where I would not be there to explain the topics. I am excited to bring this new skill with me to
my future career in research, as I must learn to write scientific papers that can stand alone.
Additionally, as I prepare to TA next semester, I know having increased abilities to explain
complex topics will be useful.

To conclude, I want to express my appreciation to the BIDMC sustainability team for
letting me learn from them this IAP. Having the opportunity to work on a project aimed at
creating positive impacts in the field of climate change was inspiring and taught me that I have
the power to make a difference, along with teaching me how to do so. This position also
strengthened my abilities to break down complex information and to teach, so I am walking
away much more confident, and equipped with new skills. I have greatly enjoyed and grown
from working for the BIDMC sustainability team.

Tags: Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships IAP 2024

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