Final year Medical Student, Queen’s
MSc Global Health graduate,
How did you get involved in global health?
Truthfully, I would be lying if I said I’ve always had a burning passion for global health. It wasn’t until my third
year of medicine when a friend told me about the Masters in Global Health at Maastricht that I began reading around the subject. Around that time, I came across Tracy Kidder’s book ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’, a biography of the life and work of Paul Farmer (an absolute must read for anyone interested in global health). What interested me about Farmer’s early work on HIV and TB in Haiti wasn’t so much the pathogenesis or treatment of these infections, but more so the context in which they came to infect and, more importantly, affect people. This framing of illness as a pathology, combined with social medicine, politics, and anthropology is what continues to excite me about global health (and often frustrates me about clinical medical). I completed my Masters in Global
Health at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, during which I spent four months at Thammasat University in Bangkok studying migrant health and the political economy of global health. As part of my thesis I worked at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’s Institute of Global Surgery, analysing training programmes for paediatric surgeons in sub-Saharan Africa. I am also a member of the Student Outreach Group at the Irish Global Health Network (IGHN). The IGHN is an independent group of academics, policymakers, NGOs and health workers dedicated to the health and development of populations at a global level, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries. We’ve been working hard at the IGHN to encourage medical students to consider how they can use their skills to tackle issues in global health and social justice. I’m keen to develop resources in this area further this year as a Healthcare Leadership Academy (HLA) scholar.
What advice do you have for medical students interested in being involved with global health and health policy in
Get involved with a student society like Students for Global Health, IGHN or Incision. Societies are great ways to
meet like-minded people who share your interests and can offer advice and opportunities for collaboration. I’d also strongly consider doing an intercalated degree (BSc or MSc) in Global/ Public/ International Health if possible – it gives you a chance to study theory surrounding global health in more detail and to improve your research skills.
If you’re interested in a specific clinical speciality and like the idea of combining it with global health – some of the royal colleges have dedicated global health groups (e.g. RCGP, RCPCH).
Also check out Global Health Me (ghmentorships.org). They offer free, online mentorships which facilitate communication between students and young professionals and experienced global health professionals. It’s a great way to get to know some people working in the field and potentially get involved in some projects.
What was your experience doing an MSc in global health? What did you learn from it?
It was the best year ever! The content was intellectually stimulating and challenged me to think about health and illness in completely different ways. I feel that the undergraduate medical curriculum lacks emphasis on the social determinants of health, so it was great to approach illness from that perspective, as well as examining the political and economic theories governing health and illness. The most valuable part of studying an MSc in Global Health was the diverse backgrounds that students and lecturers came from, ranging from conflict nursing and environmental health to physiotherapy and political sciences. That brings a really unique blend of experiences and expertise to discussion and group work and is really reflective of the ‘real world’ of global health.
How has this pandemic influenced your views on Public/ Global Health?
It’s quite hard not to write an essay in response to this question. I think we can all appreciate that the field of global health has never been more relevant as it is today. On the one hand I’m delighted that (most) political and health leaders are finally appreciating the importance of international cooperation and funding for health. However, I also
find myself frustrated that it’s taken a global pandemic for this to happen. As I’m sure the enquiries will highlight, we’ve been warned for many years that a pandemic like coronavirus was an imminent public health threat, yet many
countries, including the UK, did little to prepare for it. This response (or lack of) to SARS-CoV-2 has highlighted the importance of the political determinants of health and the need for health to take centre place in all government policy – I’m passionate about advocating for that. COVID-19 also isn’t the ‘great leveller’ some would have us believe. It has painfully exposed the deep and persisting inequalities in our society, which people like Michael Marmot have been highlighting for decades. The most deprived in our society have experienced higher rates of exposure to COVID-19, with poorer existing health putting them at increased risk of adverse outcomes. Deep-rooted discrimination in British society has meant that black, Asian and minority ethnic groups have suffered an unequally heavy burden of disease and death. Moreover, government action to control the spread of the virus (lockdown, social distancing, cancelling routine healthcare) has exacted a heavier social and economic price for those marginalised communities. Tackling these factors is what drives me towards combining clinical medicine with a career in global health. Virchow said that “physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should largely be solved by them”. This pandemic has only made me more determined to examine those
‘social’ problems (which are often a complex combination of political, economic, cultural and social factors) and work towards developing strategies that can mitigate them.