Dr Dzintars Gotham qualified in medicine from Imperial College London, before going on to work as a consultant at STOPAIDS, the Wellcome Trust and the Medicines Patent Pool. He is currently working on supporting implementation of the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property as a Consultant at the World Health Organisation. He has been involved in access to medicines and advocacy for a long time, through his extensive work with UAEM UK. We interviewed him to ask about his career pathway, and his tips for students aspiring to careers in global public health and policy!
Could you briefly describe the jobs you have had since medical school in global health and policy/consultancy?
I started doing research on issues around medicine affordability in my third year of medical school, mainly through work with an organisation called Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. By the time I had finished medical
school, I had worked on a bunch of research and policy projects, and I had gotten to know a lot of the people working in this area.
After finishing medical school, I worked as a consultant (in global health, that is the word people use to say ‘freelancer’) for a variety of NGOs, the first one being the Medicines Patent Pool, which is an NGO that works on
negotiating agreements with pharmaceutical companies to enable patented medicines to be manufactured generically in low- and middle-income countries, lowering their price. The MPP is based in Geneva, where the World Health Organization and many other global health entities are based. After the MPP I worked for a number of other NGOs. Consultants often (or even, normally) have 3 or 4 projects going at once, for different clients.
More recently I have worked for the World Health Organization, researching issues around access to affordable medicines, intellectual property, and health innovation systems.
What attracted you to global health and policy as a career, rather than going directly to the traditional medical route?
Global health policy deals with the biggest questions – how to change the world – and with every facet of those questions: political, economic, scientific, communications, all at once.
I think that most policy work has a far greater impact than people can grasp, including the people who are doing the policy work. Even if you are only one of the thousands of people that worked on, for example, the Framework
Convention on Tobacco Control, you will have had a far greater impact on the world than the most industrious GP.
What makes you most proud of doing the job you currently do?
There aren’t so many people working in my field, so every new person who enters it is valuable and brings something to the table. The people who work in my field are visionaries and many have already changed the world many times over. It’s an honour to be one of the small number of people working in the field.
What advice do you have for medical students interested in being involved with global health and health policy in future?
- Get involved early. Give up some other hobby to have more time for global health stuff. Don’t feel like you need a huge amount of technical knowledge to work on an issue – most people in global health are polymaths and are used to having to learn about a new subject every week.
- Advocacy work is incredibly valuable to the world – more than you realise – and a great, perhaps best,
way to learn about an issue.
- It’s useful if you get interested in a more specific field within global health, early. Don’t be shy in asking your medical school to give you a year out, let you do an intercalated Master’s, and so on. Whatever your field is, ask researchers/professors to give you research work. If the first one is standoffish, move on to another one.