When most people think about a career in global health, they imagine medicine —doctors and nurses working to serve others and treat patients in towns, villages, and rural communities across the globe.
And while medicine plays a huge role, truly addressing global health challenges necessitates participation from a wide range of fields beyond medicine, from supply chain management to computer programming, architecture to education, communications to human resource management. To address the biggest health issues facing our world today, we need passionate individuals with diverse skill sets and multi-disciplinary approaches.
So, if you (like me) have always been interested in global health but aren’t on the path to becoming a doctor, know that your background and skills—no matter what they are—are needed, too. And, many opportunities to gain exposure in global health exist, from yearlong training programs to online multi-disciplinary courses to full-time jobs that can lead to a life of impact.
If you’ve ever thought about making a career change to global health, I’ve outlined three opportunities to consider below.
1. Start Learning
Exposure and education are critical in understanding the complexity of today’s global health challenges, so learning as much as you can about the issues you care about and the history of the communities around the world is a great place to start.
A wealth of online resources, courses, books, research, and communities exist to help you refine problem-solving skills and gain greater understanding of the context and the multitude of factors at play in health challenges and inequities. The more you learn, and the more you continually strengthen your skills, the greater impact you can have. Below are a few great resources I use regularly:
2. Look for Service Opportunities
To take it a step further, I’d recommend researching volunteer and fellowship opportunities in the U.S. and abroad. Idealist, DevEx, and public health organizations such as the World Health Organization Fellowship Programme, the U.S. Peace Corps, and university programs offer excellent opportunities to gain exposure to new communities and new skills. Whether you spend your time creating and translating patient education materials or helping dispense vaccines, this experience will give you a taste for working in the space and also provide much-needed assistance to organizations making an impact in global health.
Also consider intensive fellowship programs, which tend to have a comprehensive application process, but give you more hands-on experience and training. For example, Global Health Corps (GHC) , the organization I co-founded, trains the next generation of global health leaders by placing professionals within nonprofits and government offices for a year-long paid fellowship. From strengthening the drug supply chain system with Partners in Health, Malawi, to designing and building the brand-new Butaro hospital with MASS Design Group and the Ministry of Health in Rwanda to advocating for policy in the PEPFAR office in Washington, DC to ensuring HIV-positive mothers can give birth to HIV-negative babies with Clinton Health Access Initiative in Uganda, our fellows have strengthened health systems that better the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. (Note: GHC is accepting applications for our 2014-2015 fellowship class until January 26.)
Below are some additional resources on volunteer programs that include health-specific opportunities:
3. Consider Full-Time Work
Many of the organizations GHC partners with, like Clinton Health Access Initiative , Partners in Health , and Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation are leading the way in transforming the global health landscape for the better—and each of these organizations is regularly looking for talented full-time employees.
Remember, you don’t always have to have a healthcare background to make an impact in global health—like all businesses, global health organizations need financial analysts, communications specialists, and policy experts. Having a curiosity and passion for global health, partnered with a relevant skill set and strong ethic of service, can benefit an organization in need.
Below are some additional resources as you begin your search for a career in global health:
Whether you are an educator, journalist, statistician, or social entrepreneur—you can help increase access to healthcare for women, children, and men around the world. The more great talent working in global health, and the more diverse perspectives at the table, the more likely we are to create innovative and effective solutions to save lives.
Barbara Bush is CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps. Barbara is a member of UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee and the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council and is one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Shapers. She is a Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation Social Entrepreneur and a fellow of the Echoing Green Foundation, which selected Global Health Corps as one of the 14 most innovative social start-ups worldwide out of 1500 applicantsMore from this Author