For the last nine months, I have had the pleasure of interning at Burness. I worked on assignments for projects that focused on everything from dental care to poverty to global health. I learned valuable lessons along the way; however, one lesson left a lasting impression.

With one of my mentors, Max Hedgepeth, I worked on the County Health Rankings. I learned that health is more than going to the doctor. In fact, it is much more complex than I thought because there are so many factors that influence your health.

Take sidewalks, for example. In my hometown of Washington, D.C., there are sidewalks almost everywhere. That’s not the case in every part of the city, but it is for my neighborhood, and I use them to get around. To school, to the grocery store, to the mall. On my way to my internship, I walk to the metro station, take a train to another station, and then walk the rest of the way. Walking is a normal part of my day. But I never realized that having multiple sidewalks might encourage me to walk more, and as result, positively contribute to my overall health.

The Rankings are a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. They are helping communities identify opportunities to improve health by providing detailed health data at the county level. While compiling a list of reporters from all 50 states who might be interested in writing about the Rankings, I had the chance to browse the Rankings and look at the data for myself.

I learned how factors like education, income, and safety can impact how long I live and my quality of life. These are issues that go beyond doctor visits, exercising and following the food pyramid, and I never thought to consider them when it came to my health.

The Rankings also helped me think about where I want to live. When I graduate from college, I plan to move to San Diego, California. Washington, D.C., gets too much snow and I’m thinking that, in a few years, it will be time to move somewhere warmer. I researched San Diego’s health rankings, and the information I found on housing surprised me.

One in four San Diego households has a severe housing problem: overcrowding, high housing costs, no kitchen or no plumbing facilities. I had already researched apartments in the area, so I knew to expect high prices. But not having a kitchen or adequate plumbing? That was something new to think about as I consider making San Diego my home. Even so, housing problems have not dampened my desire to move out West. I still like the idea of year-round sunshine and the possibility of wearing shorts every day.

But before that, I will head to college at the end of August and start the next phase of my life in a new place – Baltimore County, Maryland. And I will use the Rankings to see how this area stacks up across various measures of health. What percentage of people smoke? Are people physically active? How many people are insured? What are the most common housing issues?

I want to answer all these questions about the place I’ll be calling home for the next four years.