Forging a Path in the Field of Global Health
Written by Raveena Mata, MA candidate in medical anthropology; participant in the 2020 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program– Public and Global Health Abbreviated Track
This summer I had the invaluable opportunity to participate in WashU’s Summer Research Program in the Public and Global Health track. In addition to learning about current research, we also were exposed to various career trajectories in this innovative field. Here are seven takeaways from conversations with mentors, presentations by alumni, and my experience in the program.
1. Global health career paths are seldom linear
You don’t have to talk to many people to see this pattern, and learn that it’s okay to have a roundabout route and continue to explore various topics, approaches, and positions, even after defining your “career”.
2. “Be a collector of experiences”
This sentiment was voiced by both mentors and alumni. Since career paths are seldom linear, gaining exposure in various settings and contexts can be especially helpful in paving the way forward. This can include everything from community health, to basic science research, to clinical settings.
3. “Know your slogans…”
…because that is what will keep you going. Whatever it is that you value or that intrinsically motivates you, find ways to remind yourself of it. For example, Dr. Jason Newland shared one of his personal slogans: “helping those who help others”.
4. “Find your people”
One of the highlights of this program was meeting a dedicated cohort of individuals with a shared passion for global and public health. (See photo above.) I hope to stay in touch with them as I continue to branch out.
5. LinkedIn (and virtual networking) is your friend
It has always been important to engage early and get your “foot in the door”. Now, more than ever in our virtual world, it is important to utilize platforms like LinkedIn to build connections with peers, colleagues, and mentors. It’s best to have specific questions prepared when reaching out to individuals to make the most out of the interaction.
6. Have a relatable, actionable, sustainable vision
Especially as students, we may not know exactly what role we will play in the future global health. However, one thing we can do is brainstorm along the intersections of our personal experiences, professional goals, and unfolding passions to find an evolving vision that is practical, scalable, and broadly applicable.
7. “Work within the structures, but don’t let the structures define your work”
This was an insightful framework that Dr. Parul Bakhshi shared, and it has stayed with me. We often talk about “long-term impact”, and this is one strategic way to creatively work within the confines of the system without letting it constrain your potential.
For anyone seeking out local and global health experiences, here are some great organizations, programs, and opportunities to explore:
- Global Health Corps
- Fulbright Scholar Program
- Global Health Center Mentorship Program at WashU
- Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders
- Doctors of the World
- Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Fellowships
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Opportunities
- World Health Organization (WHO) Internships
Acknowledgments: I would like to sincerely thank everyone who made this experience possible:
- WashU Institute for Public Health and Mentors, specifically Dr. Jason Newland, Dr. Gaya Amarasinghe, Dr. Jacaranda Van Rheenen, Dr. Parul Bakhshi, and Dr. Lindsay Stark, who all offered their time, guidance, and support
- WashU Global Health Center
- Departments of Medicine, Molecular Microbiology, and Pediatrics at Washington University’s School of Medicine
- Children’s Discovery Institute of Washington University and St. Louis Children’s Hospital
- Genevieve and Carroll Ockert