Getting Started in Global Health: Where to Begin
Ways to Begin
Because global health is such a broad field in terms of localities, needs, and resources, there is not a single best pathway. However, the following are some basic steps you can take to find out whether global health is a good fit for you.
1. Reflect on your personal motivations for global health work. This can be a significant determinant in your effectiveness and satisfaction. Before making a major commitment, you may find it helpful to talk with an experienced global health worker.
Questions to consider include the following:
- Is my interest motivated by altruism or tourism?
- Am I most comfortable as the giver and teacher, or am I also able to receive and learn from the poor and disadvantaged?
- Are my family and I willing to live and work outside of our comfort zone, in a culture that has different perspectives than our own?
What makes family medicine a good fit for global health?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the greatest need in global health systems worldwide is the broad application of effective primary health care.
2. Get involved in local activities that allow you to form relationships with people of other cultures who speak languages other than English. For example, you could work in a clinic that serves primarily minority or refugee populations, or teach English to international students or new immigrants.
3. Identify and learn more about a specific culture, language area, or country that matches your interests, skills, and availability. If possible, experience that culture, language area, or country in person.
4. Familiarize yourself with the epidemiology and unique health problems of your region of interest.
Search the websites of global organizations and other resources, including:
- World Health Organization (WHO): www.who.int/gho/en/
- UNICEF: www.unicef.org/statistics/
- The World Bank: http://data.worldbank.org/
- Access the World Health Data Portal. This online resource from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) allows users to generate maps, charts, and graphs to visualize data related to demographics, vital statistics, child and infant health, disease prevalence, and health care capacity and expenditures for countries around the world.
- Talk to local health care workers in your region of interest. To work in some regions, you will need to know about specific tropical diseases and procedural competencies, as well as understanding unique aspects of the local health system.
Understand key differences and similiarites between global Health, international health, and public health.
Focuses on health issues that transcend national boundaries
Focuses on issues outside of one’s own country
Focuses on specific communities or countries
Prevention and clinical care
Prevention and clinical care
Health equity among nations
Help other nations
Health equity within a nation or community
Highly interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary
Embraces a few disciplines
Multidisciplinary, particularly with health and social sciences
Keeping Up with Global Health Issues
Global health is so broad and complex that it is impossible for one person to keep up with every medical, cultural, linguistic, and legal issue. However, the following are tips for keeping up with specific issues that are relevant to your interests.
- Focus on a culture, language area, or country. If possible, visit the site before you commit to working there so that you can be sure it is a good fit.
- Identify your primary interests (e.g., clinical practice, teaching) and focus on keeping up with the issues that are most relevant to these interests in the culture, language area, or country in which you want to serve.
- Pick a specific project or program that taps into your skills and reflects your interests and values.
- Consider long-term involvement. You can be involved in global health for time intervals ranging from a few days to a lifetime. By returning to the same project or program over a period of years, you build relationships and develop a greater understanding of the needs and available resources.
- Attend conferences and workshops that are relevant to your interests and area of service. A host of global health conferences and workshops are available, so look for those that are relevant to your interests and of value to your area of service. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Family Medicine Global Health Workshop is held annually (information available at www.aafp.org/events/global-health.html). The World Organization of Family Doctors (Wonca) holds a global conference every three years and several regional conferences each year. Many specialty organizations hold global health conferences. Some groups that are active in global health, such as missionary agencies, hold training conferences.
- Develop your own library of useful resources. Bookmark useful websites that are relevant to your global health interests (e.g., www.aafp.org/international, www.globalfamilydoctor.com(www.globalfamilydoctor.com)), or collect reference materials such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) books on travel medicine or publications from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Can't travel? You can still get involved.
There are a variety of ways that you can get involved in global health work without leaving the United States. Explore Domestic Opportunities in Global Health »