4 Takes on Your Career in Global Health

Loving global health is one thing, building a career that pays (and pays off student loans) is another.

At a March 27 CUGH conference session attended by more than 250 people, a panel of 4 experts representing career stages shared their personal experiences as well as tips for students and others building a career.

Global Health NOW’s Brian W. Simpson mined the talks for some nuggets of wisdom.

Phil Landrigan, MD, Chair of Preventive Medicine and Dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai
“Make a plan for your life. The action of making a plan … and figuring out who you are and where you are in your life—it’s very important. Do you want to be a public health field worker? An academic? Work for the CDC or a state or city health department? Those are all good choices. Which of those choices fits with who you are? Get training that fits that plan.

“If you don’t have at least a rough plan, you’re going to be buffeted by life and other people and other forces are going to determine your life for you.”

Fadya El Rayess, MD, MPH, Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University
“People have different decades of work that they do. Even if you have a life plan, don’t think that you’ll do that for the rest of your life. Most of us are high achieving and may get bored after doing the same thing for 10 years.”

“You have to have these different plans for you life, and when an opportunity comes, it is helpful to just jump on it when you can.”

“People in medical school wonder what are different ways you can do global health. A lot of people think emergency medicine or ID [infectious disease]. I really want to put in a plug for family medicine or general pediatrics. When you are in Lesotho, they expect a generalist physician, a single person as a health resource capacity. If you can train a whole lot of family doctors, you can help take care of a lot of people. Don’t undervalue that.”

Sharon Rudy, PhD, Program Director, Global Health Fellows II Program, USAID
Ask yourself 3 questions:

“What do I love? Nobody loves every part of their job. There are some things if you listen you just feel all’s right with the universe when you’re doing it. When you pay attention to your work, you know there are parts of your job that you love.

The second is, what am I good at? What do people say you’re good at? You’ll be surprised about the gifts you have that you are not even aware of.

“The third inquiry is, where do you need to be geographically? You don’t make career decisions in a vacuum. You have to consider your family, your partner. If You have aging parents. And answers to this question will change over your life time.

Brittany Seymour, DDS, MPH, Assistant Professor, Harvard School of Dental Medicine
“Don’t be afraid to make a change even if it seems drastic. My journey to academia was really messy. I owned a private practice and I was 1.25 million in debt and I was unhappy. I was off track and that was very scary. I found the strength and the motivation to make a change and get out from under that debt and really pursue what I was most passionate about.

“In global health, we all want to be vehicles for change, and my advice is let your heart be the engine and your head be the driver. With that huge debt and being off track, my heart figured out what I ought to be doing and my head how to get there. Without my heart, my head would have said, ‘Don’t do it. Are you crazy? How could you ever do that?’

“My other advice is, don’t take sloppy risks. They need to be thoughtful and strategic. You need to have the head factor too."

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