My Experience as a Unite For Sight Global Health World Fellow

By Tara Bryant, BA Harvard University
Fellow, July 2009 - May 2010

As a Global Health World Fellow for 2009-2010, I worked at the Unite for Sight headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.  This full-time position allowed me to further my passion for global health, public health, and medicine, and gave me the opportunity to contribute to an organization that is creating lasting change.   My work as a fellow revolved around three core areas of Unite for Sight: Global Health University, Global Impact Lab, and the Global Health & Innovation Conference.

Global Health University

Global Health University is an initiative designed to develop the next generation of global health leaders through comprehensive training workshops, a Global Health Certificate Program, fellowship and internship opportunities, and online global health resources.  As coordinator of these activities I interacted with a diverse and impressive group of future global health leaders, both students and professionals.  My main role was to expand the depth and breadth of Global Health University through the creation of new educational resources such as online courses, articles, certificate programs, and workshops.  Below are a few of the resources that I developed:

These certificate programs are designed to provide students, educators, doctors, public health professionals, and others with a comprehensive understanding about the complexities and realities of global health. Those enrolled in the Certificate Programs complete course material and are issued an official certificate. The Global Health & Program Delivery Certificate is designed for Global Impact Volunteers, as they combine high-impact service with an immersive global health learning experience in developing countries. The Global Health Research Certificate Program is designed to provide students, educators, doctors, public health professionals, business professionals, and others with a comprehensive understanding about how to design and implement a successful research study in global health. The Social Entrepreneurship Program helps enrollees gain a comprehensive understanding about social entrepreneurship, innovation, and successful strategies in scaling ideas.  Lastly, the Certificate in Maternal and Child Health explores issues in child and maternal survival and the unique barriers to care that face women and children.

Global Impact Lab

Many of Unite for Sight’s Global Impact Fellows pursue research in the Global Impact Lab, which is an optional program for those interested in global health research.  Pursuing research enables students to contribute important knowledge to the global health and global eye care communities, and many of our Fellows publish in peer-reviewed journals and give presentations at conferences. 

My work involved mentoring students interested in research. I assisted students in finding a topic, developing their research methodology and obtaining approval from their university's Institutional Review Board.  In this role, I interacted with Global Impact Fellows from all over North America in collaboration with their faculty research mentors and the local doctors at our eye clinic partners abroad.  This truly global effort was rewarding as I followed the research process from start to finish and witnessed the benefits that research can have in resource-poor settings.

For example, two student research studies that began in India have many potential benefits to the clinic and are now being pursued across Unite for Sight locations.  The first study is on patient understanding of post-operative cataract medication and the second study is investigating patient understandings of how to properly use eye glasses.  These studies will be evaluating whether visual aids (diagrams) are effective at educating patients about these subjects.  Other students are investigating the prevalence of traditional medical practices, barriers to cataract surgery, and clinical outcomes. 

In addition, as a tool for volunteers interested in research, I compiled a database of research articles regarding eye health in developing countries. The Community Eye Health Research Journal Article Database includes most community eye health research articles published during the past 30 years.  Global Impact Fellows utilize this database to develop new study ideas and to conduct literature reviews to inform their study designs.

Global Health & Innovation Conference

The Unite for Sight Global Health & Innovation Conference is "a famous global crossroads" where thousands come together to discuss innovative solutions to improving health and development.  The annual conference hosts over 200 speakers representing all disciplines of global health, social entrepreneurship, international development, and innovation.  In my work for the conference, I used organizational skills to plan the conference and coordinate presentation details with speakers.

Reflection

My fellowship at Unite for Sight can best be characterized as a year of learning—learning through research and through interacting with others.  My knowledge of issues in global health and development grew immensely and I gained valuable research skills through my work in the Global Health University.  In addition, I developed crucial communication and collaboration skills by working closely with the staff at Unite for Sight and by connecting with the global health community throughout the world.

As I plan to enter medical school, this fellowship expanded my conception of health and its relation to culture and society.  It gave me a framework to understand the linkage between poverty and poor health as well as how innovative thinking and social enterprises can address the root of this problem.  This fellowship opportunity can provide meaningful experiences not only to those who are interested in medicine and public health, but also to those are passionate about making a sustainable impact where it matters most.