Navigating Global Health as a New Graduate
By Danielle M. Agnello Executive Director, GHMe
Public Health Consultant, WHO/Europe Tw: DannyAgnello_GH
The Future Looks Bright I clearly recall my first day at the in the Master’s Global Health Science Programme, at the University of Copenhagen (KU). There was a distinguishing buzz in the room, as everyone was excited and optimistic about what this meant for their careers, and the future of this new programme. We were the first cohort of students and it was clear the professors were keen on making this a successful launch.
Since that day in 2013, I can say I am grateful for the network I built while I was at KU, and the unique doors it opened for me. During my studies and subsequent professional experiences, I learned a handful of valuable lessons that I would like to share with you today:
1) Be your own advocate and get your name out there!
When you believe in yourself, you can truly be unstoppable. You know your skills, competencies, and the potential of your ideas, so go out there and make it known. Being a young professional in an emerging field, means you need to speak up and listen up while putting yourself at the table with those policy-makers, NGO directors, and CEOs; because the future can, and hopefully will be built on innovative and collaborative ideas from people like you!
Dr. Alessandro Demaio, co-hosts the ABC television show Ask the Doctor, gave the KU global health students an important presentation about the power of Twitter; not tweeting about what you had for breakfast that morning, or how good that concert was, but about what you find most important in the field of GH; those topics that give you the drive to wake up every day with a smile on your face and hope in your heart. Also, twitter is an amazing networking tool, which leads me to my next tip.
2) Build a network, NOW!
They say that you are who you hang around, and I fully believe that; we learn from each other and inspire new ideas through a conversation over a coffee, or by grabbing lunch with a new colleague at work. Also, my work experience has shown me that when a company or organization is pressured to get a task or project done in a specialized and high-quality fashion (quickly and efficiently), then picking the right person to execute that task is crucial. How can an employer be 100% sure their new project manager, or medical officer, will do a stellar job? By having experience working with him or her beforehand, or knowing someone who did. It may sound unfair, but that is the reality. So don’t only do a great job in your current and future volunteer or work positions; make it known you are doing a great job, and establish and maintain organic professional relationships.
3) Write, write, and write some more.
Do not underestimate the power of blogs! Briefly put, it is not a small task to publish a scientific article or write a book. Yes, those are pertinent skills and accomplishments for your career path, but in the meantime, get the practice and visibility by writing for a blog that relates to your area of expertise. For instance, I was asked for writing samples from a potential employer, and a few of my past blog posts were among those I submitted, and I got the job! So reach out to any of the existing health blogs and start writing, or make a blog of your own! Some relevant examples are 1) PLOS blogs, 2) Eye on GH, 3) NCDFREE’s blog; and there are many more!
4) Be flexible.
Charles Darwin puts it nicely, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” We are in essence creating the foundations of an emerging field (multi-sectoral focus, horizontal approaches and thinking, and collaboration), so it is important to allow yourself some flexibility in the type of work you will do, and what tasks you are willing to take on. Personally, I am a Microbiologist that focused on Health Systems in my graduate studies, and if I only took on positions related to microbiology or health systems, I would not be where I am today. I engaged with opportunities that arose, whether it was event organizing, graphic design, or team management, and today I see all these skills as vital pieces of my Global Health toolbox. I didn’t have the foresight then about what those tasks and positions have given me now; I simply jumped in with both feet and trusted that I could utilize those tools later to further my goals. You never know what’s coming for you, so walk through those open doors courageously and with a positive mindset.
5) Stay Positive
Believe me, I fully understand how daunting, and at some times, discouraging it is to navigate the GH field, but we are in a very exciting point in history! The health and quality of life for every man, woman and child in the world is in the spotlight, and we are collectively feeling responsible for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and taking ownership of the health of our home, Planet Earth. What an exciting time to be a student or young professional, and I look forward to seeing what each of you will contribute to our global movement towards a better future!