Global Health Students – Who are we? What can we contribute?

By Louise Scheel Hjorth Thomsen

Nicolas Raymond - World Map - Abstract Acrylic
Nicolas Raymond – World Map – Abstract Acrylic

Since, I became a member of the master’s programme of Global Health at Copenhagen University, I have experienced that a lot of opportunities are given. But, it can be hard to find a niche and a track to follow, as the field of global health is multidisciplinary and includes a wide range of relevant and interactive health issues and future job positions. Many repeating questions arise with no easy answers. Should I choose Tanzania or Poland as destination for my field trip? Which study track is the most interesting for me? Where do I want to get an internship or go for exchange? Which electives are optional and fit my profile? For even further reflection; which topic do I want for my thesis? All these queries are floating in my head and constantly appear in conversations between me and my fellow students, as we are encouraged to consider our study plans and wishes for our future career. Personally, I feel a constant pressure to make career orientated decisions, which ideally are well structured, straightforward and follows a clear line.

This pressure also links to my search for a relevant student job. At our University’s newly held “Career Day”, it became clear to me that the majority of the labour market is not aware of our existence, what we can contribute, what our special skills are, and how we can fit into a specific work force. At the same time, friends and family are continuously asking what I will “become” when I have finished my studies and what I am a specialist in. Do I, as a new master’s student, know the answers to all these introductory questions? I am not that sure. But, I will try to provide clarity, starting with the one thing, which combines all the raised questions – “global health”. To clarify this field and to identify the goal of global health related work, I find it necessary to define it.

What is Global Health?

The three levels of health; public health, international health and global health, are all population-based and preventive focused, multi- and interdisciplinary approaches and put emphasis on vulnerable people. With regards to global health, I like to use the definition made by Professor J. P. Koplan MD, who determines global health as a transnational area of study, research and practice, that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide. Well, it sounds ambitious and glamorous. Nevertheless, critics say that the field is characterised by colonialism and funding, for which reason the money sets the agenda. Answering the question of what global health is, leads to another with regards to the specific competences of global health graduates.

Which skills can we contribute to the labour market?

As specified at the Webpage of the School of Global Health, a graduate in global health will, for instance, be able to address scientific research and existing data, to expand and apply knowledge about a specific global health issue. Besides, we can address multifaceted practice and policy issues relating to global health. Furthermore, we contribute to evidence-based planning, communication and implementation of innovative initiatives and strategies to improve health and prevent and control diseases. Equally important, we tackle cross-disciplinary and complex problems by providing evidence-based solutions. These unique skills are definitely the reason why future employers should hire us.

An example of a study plan

Back to the “Career Day” – a repeating question occurred; “So, what are your special interests?”. This is indeed what the study planning and future career track is all about. Interests and excitement are the key drivers to answering these difficult questions. Although I had some difficulties answering them at the time, after further reflection, I will now try to answer all these questions founded on my personal interests and with the mentioned competences in mind.

I will choose the study track “Disease, Burdens, Changes and Challenges” to get specialised in prevention and control of non-communicable diseases like cancer. In this context, I have a particular interest in nutritional aspects and the influence of other health determinants, including physical, environmental, cultural and social factors, from individual to society level around the world. Therefore, my master’s study will preferably involve an internship and electives in the field of non-communicable diseases, health communication and nutrition, in relation to health promotion and disease prevention.

Meanwhile, I do also like to strengthen my practical experiences with regards to health challenges and organisational work in developing countries. This is why I started volunteering at the IMCC project “DanZania” and I hope to go to Tanzania on our field trip in the spring 2015. Ultimately, I hope this study plan will be rewarding and I will be able to test different aspects of the global health field, to be closer to an identification of my dream career.

In conclusion, global health professionals have a lot to bring to the labour market, but I know there is a general need for awareness about the profession and our unique skill and knowledge sets. By introducing you to the term “global health” and furthermore, which competences we develop under our master’s programme, I do hope that you are now slightly more aware of who we are and what we can contribute. By following this blog, you will be introduced to a lot of the interesting topics related to our studies.

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