At Howard University, a Budding Interest in Global Health Can Grow
The campus of Howard University sits less than two miles away from the Washington, DC office of the Global Health Fellows Program (GHFP) II. U.S. News & World Report currently ranks it number two among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) based on the quality of undergraduate education offered.
I was thrilled to visit the campus on April 21st to meet with a diverse group of students. I had the privilege of presenting to students from the Globe Med Chapter founded in 2013, along with Dr. Joseph Korevec, Senior Director of Admissions & Financial Aid from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. We shared resources and insights into building long running careers in global health. Our main focus was ensuring that access to building the competencies and technical skills needed to compete in the global health market were accessible to all in attendance. The students came from a variety of majors including Biology, Computer Science, and Chemistry, but all had an interest in Global Health. Many were eager to go directly to graduate school to pursue this dream further, while others wanted to gain information on opportunities for field experience in an affordable way. Accessibility was a major theme when I spoke one-on-one with the Co-President of the chapter, Christina Amutah, a senior Political Science major and Chemistry minor.
I met Christina virtually months earlier during an informational interview where she shared with me her goal of working overseas prior to applying for medical school. I was very interested in learning how a Political Science major developed a keen interest in Global Health. A major component to her interest in the field was her relationship with our partner organization, GlobeMed. Christina states,
I decided to become involved with GlobeMed because it stood as a unique opportunity to get involved in global health. At the time, when I first learned about GlobeMed, I had a budding interest in the idea of global health but I didn’t know much about it. Other opportunities to get my foot into the door seemed too inaccessible to me. They were either too expensive/unpaid or required a level of experience I didn’t have yet. I loved that GlobeMed provided real experiences for anyone who was interested in learning about global health.
Reaching out to younger students, and supporting them as they move through their careers, is a GHFP-II strategy aimed at attracting and retaining these uniquely talented individuals. Recent articles indicate that early interventions translate into a positive impact on students’ ability to achieve their career goals in health related fields. A key component of GHFP-II’s strategy that personally motivates me and is a focus area in the work I do, is to ensure that these careers are accessible to newcomers into the field regardless of their background. Since first starting with the program, I’ve spoken with hundreds of students and provided information to help them identify the unique skills and experiences they have and treat them as assets on the road to a global health career.
By focusing on the key competencies needed for success instead of someone’s educational institution or years of experience overseas, we can help eliminate barriers to those who haven’t had similar opportunities. One such competency is interpersonal effectiveness which focuses on an employee’s cultural acumen, flexibility and adaptability, initiative and creativity, and ability to manage change. Christina, like many of the students I met has had life experiences which have fostered her interpersonal effectiveness.
I was born in rural Nigeria, where most of my family remains. So, my current commitment to global health indeed stems from a personal space. As I learned more and more about the field, I realized how close to home many of these issues are for me. My mother was an internal refugee during the Nigerian Civil War and cites international assistance among the forces that saved her life. In 2013, during my time in Nigeria, I met and paid my respects to relatives whose lives had either been hampered or cut short for reasons unimaginable in the West: asthma, tuberculosis, childbirth, etc. My proximity to the “issues” makes me understand that my relative privilege is simply a result of chance.
Her experience with GlobeMed has allowed Christina to expand upon the skills she already has. She had the opportunity to attend Leadership Institute, a weekend long training opportunity where she networked and increased her strategic planning, event planning, and leadership skills. As Co-President of the chapter, her leadership skills have grown immensely and she has found ways to incorporate idealistic values into the everyday workings of an organization, something she will take with her in the next chapter of her global health career.
After her May graduation, Christina will be a Princeton in Africa fellow at the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative in Botswana. There she will coordinate a social support program for a few hundred HIV positive teens and develop curriculum used nationwide. Coincidentally this role is one that was filled previously by two other GlobeMed Alumni. She credits her GlobeMed experience with preparing her for her fellowship opportunity and highlighted her leadership of the chapter and commitment to global health during her interview process for the position.
When I asked Christina what advice she would give to students like her interested in being involved with GlobeMed, she enthusiastically responded “Do it! And be ready to dig deep.” GHFP-II’s deep commitment to exposing young leaders to the field of global health as early as possible while reducing barriers to opportunities for diverse participants is evidenced in students like her. The barriers can seem endless, particularly those from HBCUs where there may not be global health related coursework available. Howard University does not currently have an MPH program or undergraduate major in public health so exposure to career options in the field can be limited without organizations like GlobeMed. There can also be socioeconomic and cultural barriers in place which impede undergraduate students from taking advantage of overseas volunteer or study experiences. In spite of the obstacles faced, I look forward to seeing the impact students like Christina will make in the future of global health. When asked what her future looks like after her fellowship Christina stated,
Health systems are failing too many people every day and I want to be a part of creating systems that best serve those who rely on them. The work being done by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) interests me because of the wide breadth of areas that USAID covers. I could definitely see myself in some sort of USAID role in the future.
Christina is an excellent example of someone whose life experiences have shaped her interest in global health, and her work with GlobeMed has provided an outlet where her unique background is an asset and has served as a springboard to a global health career.
Originally published by PHI Global Health Fellows Program II