IHSC career development webinar recording “En Route from the Ebola Tent to Congress” now available

The APHA International Health Student Committee hosted a webinar called “En Route from the Ebola Tent to Congress” on September 27, 2017 with Deborah Wilson, RN and MPH candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Debbie led an interactive webinar walking attendees through a day in the life of an Ebola Treatment Center, including a bit about the political fallout upon returning to the USA, and how her experiences shifted her from direct patient care to public health policy.

If you have any questions, please email: apha.ihsc.careers@gmail.com

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International Health Student Committee (IHSC) Career Development Webinar

Join the APHA International Health Student Committee for a Career Development webinar with Deborah Wilson, RN, and MPH candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for a discussion of her recent experiences in the Ebola “hot zone.”

September 27th, 2017 @ 5:30 pm

Click here to register. Contact – apha.ihsc.careers@gmail.com

 

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IHSC Career Development webinar recording now available

The Career Development team of the IHSC is pleased to share with you the recording for their most recent webinar held on Tuesday, June 27, 2017.

Kristen Stafford, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore and Sara Shuman, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, La Salle University and Director of Promontoras, Puentes de Salud in Philadelphia discussed their experiences in resource-limited settings in a program entitled, From Implementing PEPFAR Programs in Africa to Intimate Partner Violence Prevention in Mexico – Two Paths to Becoming a Global Health Professional.

If you have any questions, please email: apha.ihsc.careers@gmail.com

Global Health in Conflict: A Weightier Commitment

It is important for early-career professionals interested in pursuing a career in global health to be aware of the realities of working internationally. Although stories of setting up vaccination clinics or fighting Ebola may stir up feelings of excitement, being a part of the action may require additional education and training in conflict resolution and institution building. This is especially true when it comes to conflict-affected areas and fragile states that are the most in need of health care/public health services as a result of the local health system infrastructure being weakened. A different kind of public health professional, one that is willing to risk their life and invest in the indigenous health system, is required in our world today.

I currently work as an epidemiologist at a regional health department in Texas. We serve two main roles for the 30 counties we cover. One of our roles is to function as a local health department and deliver a diverse range of services to 23 counties. The other main role is to serve as an extension of the state health department and provide surveillance/investigation guidance for the reportable conditions that health care providers, schools, and community members are mandated to report. This relationship is seen especially when we work with the 7 counties in our region that have their own local health departments. Before beginning this job, I actually worked at one of these local health departments and was on the receiving end of the interaction described above.

For most of my life, I’ve been interested in pursuing a career in global health or humanitarian work. When I was younger, I thought the only way I could pursue this dream was by being a physician (especially if I wanted to be able to support myself financially). I also believed this to be a great way to help communities that were dying from preventable illnesses. My introduction to public health helped me see that there were many other ways to help achieve the goal of combating deaths due to preventable illnesses. I focused in on epidemiology as a way to combine my science/laboratory background with my desire to serve and entered into an MPH program after completing my B.S. in Biology. Most of my MPH program was spent working hard to obtain tangible experiences in public health practice and deciding which skills would be most necessary for me to have before entering into the workforce. While pursuing my MPH from 2014-2015, some of the hot topics in public health were Ebola, antimicrobial resistance, bioterrorism, anti-vaccination movements, hospital-acquired infections, opioid abuse, tuberculosis trends related to travel, maternal and child health gaps, and continued efforts to end polio and AIDS, to name a few. Towards the end of my program, I began to hear more about the dangers of humanitarian work and global health as stories involving health care and humanitarian workers being targeted in conflict-affected areas/fragile states were highlighted in various media outlets. I also knew of at least one faculty member at the university I attended whose global health team was attacked shortly after the individual returned to the US (after working in the field for a number of years).

When I entered into the public health workforce in 2016, Zika was just becoming a hot topic in public health circles in the U.S. But there were other things for me to learn at my local health department. I received an introduction to the Immunization team and programs such as Texas Vaccines for Children which enable young people in Texas to receive affordable immunization coverage (there is an adult vaccine program too). I also received an introduction to the statewide ImmTrac system that stores vaccine records and learned about some of its strengths and challenges. Ultimately, I was able to see the importance of public health collaborating with healthcare providers, schools, and community members to ensure that a community has adequate herd immunity or, in the case of outbreaks, can deliver effective interventions in response to infectious disease threats. Something else I learned about was the role of immunization clinics or point of dispensing units (PODS) during natural disasters, such as floods, and other public health emergencies.

I’ve shared some of my experience working at the local level because it gave me a tangible picture of how public health functions in stable environments or areas that are not weakened by natural disasters. In conflict-affected areas or fragile states, public health efforts may be fragmented at best. For example, in August 2015 Nigeria was removed from the World Health Organization’s list of countries with endemic Wild Polio Virus (WPV). This was the result of global efforts aimed at eradicating polio through targeted immunization campaigns. Nigeria went two years without WPV cases before, in August 2016, two cases were reported in Borno-a conflict-affected state. Two additional cases were reported in September 2016. The cases were from inaccessible areas of the state with limited security and indicated that prolonged transmission had gone undetected as a result of armed conflict. Although the number of areas held by insurgents, and therefore without access to vaccines, eventually decreased, the conflict in Borno prevented timely vaccination campaigns and posed a risk to Nigeria as a whole. Specifically, migration between Internally Displaced People (IDPs) camps and refugee communities resulted in a higher potential for WPV cases to be reported in states not directly tied to the conflict. A similar trend was noticed with the Ebola outbreak that occurred in West Africa from 2014-2015. The disease posed an increased risk in fragile states and areas affected by conflict. For example, prior civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone severely weakened the countries’ infrastructure in the 1990s. The conflicts also affected surrounding countries and resulted in millions of displaced people. In some of instances, countries had the resources needed to respond to public health emergencies caused by conflict. However, groups of people or areas deemed to be inaccessible as a result of conflict continued to undermine the effectiveness of immunization clinics and infectious disease response efforts.

A comparative analysis conducted by Bourdeaux et al. in 2015 assessed the effect of conflict on health systems in Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.  Health systems were defined as, “the organized network of institutions, resources and people that deliver health care to populations” and was based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework for Action (2007). The framework highlights financing, leadership/governance, information, medical products/vaccines/technologies, health workforce, and service delivery as essential components of effective health systems. When this organized network is destroyed as a result of armed conflict, high levels of morbidity and mortality occur and can have negative effects that persist even after the conflict is over. The analysis found that the building blocks most affected by conflict and security forces were “governance, information systems and indigenous health delivery organizations.”  In order to address these gaps, a suggestion provided by the authors is to deploy Health Security Teams comprised of individuals with training in public health and institution building to conflict-affected areas and fragile states. The teams would support indigenous health systems instead of creating parallel or temporary systems, and not be involved in serving military interests. Additionally, these teams would know how to guide security forces as they engage with health systems in diverse political climates.

At this point in time in my career, most of my work is done in an office on a phone or computer. When I started my journey in public health, I pictured something different. I still have the long-term goal to work internationally (or financially support myself while volunteering internationally). However, I am sobered by the fact that if I want to serve those who are truly in need (especially as it relates to conflicted-affected areas and fragile states) I will have to be at peace with laying my life on the line. I will also have to be prepared to navigate the challenges presented above. This includes learning as much as I can about conflict resolution and negotiating to protect health systems. In general, I feel that public health has much to do in terms of educating and re-assuring those we serve (both domestically and internationally). As a result, part of my journey in public health will include developing skills as a connector of people and someone that can see both sides of an issue. I think that all public health professionals interested in working in a global health or humanitarian worker capacity should consider this. At the same time, immigrants or refugees that have left their homes due to conflict or in search of better opportunities can also develop the skills needed to resolve conflict and rebuild institutions. The success of the suggested Health Security Teams could depend on this.

 

Photo: Diane Budd, M.D.

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Five practical career development suggestions to position yourself for the global health profession

This is the final installment of a three-part series the IH Blog will feature this week called Global health career insights: Lessons on the job market, how to crack it, and what to do once you’re in.


Jessica’s post on the results of the Section’s analysis of the global health job market speaks a lot to the harsh realities of the global health field, and development more broadly. Much like her, I did not start out working in global health – in fact, I entered it 10 years after my public health career already started. I worked for free (well, academic credit) to fulfill my (200 hour minimum) MPH practicum requirement (which I did while working basically full-time and continuing to take classes) on a global health project with my current organization, whom I now work for full-time. When I started my practicum, I already had a very robust set of specialized knowledge and like so many other global health professionals of my generation, I was lucky enough to be introduced to my organization through someone in my public health network.

Throughout my public health career, it has been disheartening for me to see how limited the opportunities are for entry-level public health professionals. In the short three years I’ve spent working in global health now, I’ve learned that for many employers, both big and small, it is the nature of our projects and our funding cycles that often prevents us from taking big risks (and this applies beyond just hiring decisions). It’s not that we don’t want to hire entry level folks! Unfortunately, grants and projects are often done in short to very short cycles, which puts employers in the tough position of needing someone who can really hit the ground running – and running really, really hard.

While the field is admittedly tough to crack, it is not impossible. Global health will always need dedicated professionals who will bring their passion, persistence, and innovative thinking to their “dream job,” whether it is managing projects, analyzing data, or filling that elusive technical advisor role. The goal of the global health jobs analysis project isn’t to discourage our Section’s students and aspiring professionals from entering the global health field completely. Rather, it’s meant to provide a roadmap on how to enter the field. With that in mind, here are five practical strategies you can integrate into your career development:

1. Find a way to live abroad and learn another language. This is more essential for some technical areas than others, but it never hurts – and for many employers, it can make your application stand out even if the position you are vying for doesn’t explicitly require it. Experience living overseas in particular demonstrates that you are adaptable to challenging environments and able to work with individuals with different cultural backgrounds. You don’t even necessarily have to be doing global health work. Even teaching English or a working holiday doing manual labor can showcase your resilience as a job candidate.

2. Build a robust set of technical skills. From my perspective, the toughest job search reality for public health generalists trying to enter this field is the shift favoring the hiring of candidates with more technical skill sets. I work in the mHealth sector of development where there is a huge need for talent. However even if the position isn’t that of a computer programmer, these job descriptions often still look for technical knowledge. So regardless of if you have a degree in anthropology or in engineering, employers seeking candidates need someone who has more than just a passion for global health and good communication skills. They need employees with technical know-how and in my field that’s either knowing project management standards, how to write and debug code, develop databases, write technical reports, run statistical analyses, or create data visualizations. Find out what technical skill set is needed for your “dream job” and work on perfecting your craft. This will help your resume stand out from the crowd greatly.

3. Work somewhere else first. A growing number of entry-level jobs in global health are going to people in country, and this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s absolutely essential for country ownership. However, there is still significant need for trained professionals in a wide variety of fields who know how to function in a professional environment and work well with a wide variety of colleagues. Sure some basic soft skills are essential – flexibility, open-mindedness, and a willingness to learn from others can take you far. But many more can be learned on the job. If you really want to make an impact in global health, find a professional vocation you are passionate about, get really good at it, and hone in on your ability to teach and be taught. Whether you’re a nurse, a project manager, an architect, a 5th grade teacher, or a data scientist, there is a need for your know-how somewhere in development.

4. Find alternative ways to work for free that don’t break the bank. I know many of us young professionals are shouldering what feels like a mountain of student loan debt, but if you can find a way to swing this and be practical about it, this is still one of the best ways to get your foot in the door. You don’t have to forego a day job, either. For those of you currently pursuing a Master in Public Health, find an organization that does work in an area you are interested in and ask if you can do a practicum, internship, or fellowship with them. If you’re already out in the workforce, volunteer your professional skill set to global health professional societies (like the IH Section!) or other professional volunteer organizations (like Engineers Without Borders, DataKind, or Teachers without Borders). Even a Google or LinkedIn search of organizations you’re interested in volunteering for should do. If you’re cold contacting an organization, make clear to them what value proposition you can offer and don’t be afraid to be persistent. While it can be a hustle, it is a good way to get experience that will give you a leg up and help you build a professional network. Which leads to…

5. Build a professional network. This advice is true in any field, but it is especially true in development. While requesting email and phone informational interviews can be helpful, getting out and meeting people one-on-one is still the best way to network. Attend relevant lectures at your local university or find a local organization that does (World Affairs and Commonwealth Club offer lectures for those living in my home base in the San Francisco Bay Area) and meet other like-minded folks. You never know who you could be sitting next to. Sign-up for list-servs like Global Health Delivery Online to connect virtually with the global health community. Attend professional society meetings with a global health focus or track like APHA’s Annual Meeting. Talk to the presenters or the person sitting next to you. These meetings are a networking gold mine!

It will take some time for the incoming generation of global health professionals to transform this field. Shifting from short-term funding cycles to long-term ones is only one way to facilitate more attainable entry points into a global health career. Until then, those of us already working in the field must make sure that we invest in aspiring global health professionals, encouraging them to take on leadership roles, and fostering their talents and ambitions through mentorship. Global health and development needs young people and their fresh perspectives in order to keep up with this rapidly changing world.


Now we want to hear from you! Please share your stories and insights on how you crafted your career and positioned yourself to enter the global health field. Get in touch with us at ihsection.communications@gmail.com.