“As the world and its economies become increasingly globalized, including extensive international travel and commerce, it is necessary to think about health in a global context. Rarely a week goes by without a headline about the emergence or re-emergence of an infectious disease or other health threat somewhere in the world,” the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion proposes. Enter the field of global health and medicine, which looks at health and wellbeing through an international lens in order to facilitate a broader understanding of and solutions for global health challenges which transcend international borders.
If you are considering a career in this increasingly vital field, here’s a closer look at four reasons to study global health and medicine.
1. You can work on prevention and solutions.
Global disease outbreaks; environmental factors like climate change and air pollution; economic disparities and access to health care; political factors like conflicts within or between nations and refugee migration; noncommunicable diseases; and animal health, food sourcing, and supply are among the most pressing global health issues facing the world at this critical juncture.
While these challenges may seem monumental, there’s hope for managing them, and global health experts are positioned to lead the way.
One group of professionals uniquely positioned to address global health issues? Doctors and nurses. Due to the interconnectedness of the world today, outbreaks spread faster and further. Understanding what’s happening in other countries is essential to stopping epidemics and preventing future ones.
Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, an associate professor of public health and preventative medicine, told US News & World report of why doctors -- and the medical schools that train them -- should adopt a global perspective on health care, “I always tell my students firstly that, as a physician, you in this world today do not decide which patient enters your office. You cannot indicate which gender you prefer to treat or which ethnic background or which geographical location. In fact, anyone from anywhere can present with any health challenge, and as a physician, you must be competent and capable to deal with people of diverse backgrounds.”
According to research published in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education, meanwhile, global health studies “can complement and enhance each step of traditional physician training” in several ways, including exposing doctors in training to diverse pathologies, improving physical exam skills, and reducing depending on lab tests and imaging, enhancing awareness of expenses and resource allocation in resource-poor settings, and fostering cultural sensitivity.
2. Global health encompasses much more than medicine.
Not a doctor or planning to become one? There are still plenty of vital opportunities for you in global health, as evidenced by the list of global health issues presented above, as well as many others ranging from substance abuse and road traffic industries to violence and clean household energy.
Non-clinical career paths may include research, education, community outreach, community healthcare planning, policy development, health systems administration and management, infectious disease management, programming planning and evaluation, and politics. (On going the latter route, former CDC director Bill Foege, heralded as a groundbreaker in global health, insists, “It’s much more efficient for a public health person to be in politics than it is to try to provide information to politicians who may turn over very quickly.”)
Global health professionals are also employed in a variety of settings in both the private and public settings, such as hospitals, private and non-profit organizations, and health agencies.
Examples of entities focused on the field of global health include international organizations like the The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the World Bank; scientific organizations like the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the Planetary Health Alliance; advocacy and policy organizations like The Earth Institute, the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), and Research!America Global Health R&D Advocacy; and foundations such as Africare, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Foundation (UNF).
Fundraisers with knowledge of global health -- and the ability to communicate why it matters -- are also in great need. Marian Wentworth, who heads up multinational global health NGO Management Sciences for Health, told Global Health Now, “One of the things that I see is that new money from donors isn't coming any time soon. Total investment in global health is plateauing and declining depending on what sources you're used to looking at. [...] I think we have to not only do the right thing but show value to those who are willing to pay for it in one way or another. For me, that's actually also a key to sustainability.”
3. Global health careers are hands-on.
Global health deals with very real problems in the world today. As such, careers in this field are accompanied by many opportunities -- not only for first-hand learning, but also to bear witness to the fruits of your labor.
As a global health professional, you might spend your time working to lower diabetes rates in vulnerable populations. Or, you might develop awareness programming on the health impacts of air pollution. You might also contribute to infection prevention and control by collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and sharing information.
What do all of these things have in common? While they vary widely in scope, they are each a direct response to the challenges of our times, and therefore offer unique fulfillment.
The Global Health Council (GHC) shares heartening figures about the impact of global health, including a 50 percent decrease in infant mortality worldwide since 1990; a 43 percent decline in maternal mortality in the 19 countries where involvement was greatest; a drop in the proportion of people from one in five to one in nine. Global health workers are the ones driving these advancements.
4. You'll find careers abroad - and close to home.
Global health issues are playing out right now in your own backyard. But they are also playing out all over the world. The takeaway? Wherever you want to work and whether your career goals include travel, global health can help you get there.
As a global health professional, you might end up devising policies aimed at regulating vehicle use and household energy consumption in your native country or your career might find you working in a third-world nation to help reduce deaths from infectious and vaccine-preventable disease.
“We are in sight of achieving an AIDS-free generation; ending preventable child and maternal deaths; and eradicating polio, Guinea worm, measles, and malaria,” GHC insists.
If you would like to add your skills, talents, knowledge, and passion to the effort, studies in global health and medicine will offer you an inside edge to a career in this uniquely rewarding field.