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How to (Really) Prepare for a Successful Global Health Career

April 20, 2017 | Juan Garcia, Global Health Fellows Program II | This post first appeared on the Global Health Fellows Program II blog.

The Consortium of Universities for Global Health’s (CUGH) Annual Conference is the world's leading academic global health conference. The event is attended by hundreds of committed leaders, professionals, educators, and students from diverse fields of study, including public health, engineering, business, law, policy, medicine, etc., to explore, discuss, and critically assess the global health landscape.

As such, it was the perfect opportunity for the Global Health Fellows Program (GHFP) II to unveil the results of our new Recent Graduates Study, conducted in partnership with CUGH.

Pictured: Dr. Sharon Rudy, Director of GHFP-II, provides context for the Recent Graduates Study at the 2017 CUGH Annual Conference.
Pictured: Dr. Sharon Rudy, Director of GHFP-II, provides context for the Recent Graduates Study at the 2017 CUGH Annual Conference.

Our lunchtime panel, “Preparation for a Successful Global Health Career,” was focused on supporting the next generation of global health leaders, and featured:

  • Sharon Rudy, Director, Global Health Fellows Program II
  • Adam Hoverman, Preventive Medicine Resident Physician, Oregon Health and Sciences University
  • William Cherniak, Lecturer, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto

Pictured: Dr. Adam Hoverman lays out the guiding questions that shaped GHFP-II and CUGH’s Recent Graduates Study.
Pictured: Dr. Adam Hoverman lays out the guiding questions that shaped GHFP-II and CUGH’s Recent Graduates Study.

Dr. Rudy kicked off the discussion by delving into what GHFP-II and CUGH hoped to better understand through the study. In particular, the Recent Graduates Study surveyed the experiences of recent graduates from master's level global health programs when seeking jobs and probed the relationship between graduate program curricula and real-world workplace demand.

The study comes at a critical time for the global health workforce. As Dr. Hoverman explained, “student interest in global health has never been higher!” However, a successful, long-term global health career involves a workforce that can balance motivation, lifestyle demands, and ever-evolving skill requirements. This means that special care must be given to ensuring those at the earliest stages of their career are as prepared as possible to meet these demands.

To do this, the study had three guiding questions that helped shape its focus:

  • Can graduates apply their knowledge and skills in their intended environment?
  • Are graduates able to repay their educational expenses?
  • Can graduates bring a strengthening capacity to global health systems?

As Dr. Cherniak pointed out, the study illuminated several key disconnects. For instance, while 83% of global health workers are currently employed in North America, when those workers were asked where they would prefer to be employed, only 30% chose North America.

There was also a noticeable difference between what kind of employment graduates expected to have versus the jobs that are available. Respondents indicated that while they would prefer to use their skills in a clinical setting, most of the jobs available were in a project management capacity. Even more telling, most of the graduates who indicated they were currently employed said it was because “there were few or no jobs available.” 

Pictured: Attendees of the 2017 CUGH Annual Conference line up to ask questions about ways academia and global health employers can address critical gaps in the preparation of global health graduates.
Pictured: Attendees of the 2017 CUGH Annual Conference line up to ask questions about ways academia and global health employers can address critical gaps in the preparation of global health graduates.

All three panelists stressed the need for global health employers, academia, and organizations like GHFP-II to work together to address these critical gaps. For academia, Dr. Hoverman suggested universities:

  • Maintain robust streams of correspondence and co-learning with graduates
  • Seek feedback from recent graduates on identified gaps, including gaps in training such as business development, statistics/data analysis, and IT services
  • Include and incentivize internships and volunteer positions within the curriculum, including experiential learning and project implementation
  • Engage potential employers to describe the value of specific skill sets and competencies within global health curricula
  • Provide access to peer and professional networks, especially alumni and alumni stories

While Dr. Rudy cautioned that “it's dangerous for academia to ignore the evolving needs of the global health workforce,” she and Dr. Cherniak also had suggestions for global health employers, including:

  • Recognize that graduates are simultaneously applying to many jobs
  • Support networking opportunities and interface with them to meet students and help to build alumni connections for students from related programs
  • Assist in curricular development with universities based upon contextual needs Match the need for non-clinical skills (e.g., project management, communication, team building, collaboration, and statistical skills) with early opportunities for such learning through internships and volunteer experiences
  • Recognize the breadth of skills required to work in global health and offer opportunities for continuing education and skill development

To learn more about GHFP-II and CUGH’s Recent Graduates Study, see the Recent Graduates Study: At-A-Glance.

To view more photos from the 2017 CUGH Annual Conference, check out our Flickr album.