Spring 2011: My Experiences as a Global Health Leadership Intern

By Catherine Thomas
Yale University Student
Spring 2011 (January - May) Global Health Leadership Intern

During my full-time internship of 14 weeks, I was immersed in the fields of global health and social entrepreneurship.  Every day, I read numerous peer-reviewed and newspaper articles, watched TED Talks and documentaries, and consulted the websites of different global health and social entrepreneurship organizations to write about pioneering ideas, cutting-edge research, and ethics in global health studies and interventions.  While conducting this daily research, I was continuously adapting my notions of best practices in global health, conjuring up ways to further this or that organization’s mission with a different approach, and gaining a better understanding of the role I could play in the field of global health.  This internship also led me to critically examine the complexities of global health interventions.  For example, I discovered the dangers of “voluntourism,” including the way that some orphanages purposely remain in dilapidated states in order to solicit more money from “voluntourists,” and the way that medical missions can undermine local doctors and even harm patients by failing to provide follow-up post-surgical care.  From such lessons and from discussions with Jennifer Staple-Clark and other staff and interns, I realized that in order to deliver the greatest impact on a community, it is essential to focus first and foremost on strengthening local capacities and relaying resources.  Not only was I able to deepen my understanding of global health through researching and writing for the website, but I was also able to have invaluable experiences during the 2011 Global Health & Innovation Conference.  

Below, I will detail the tasks I performed at Unite For Sight over the course of the semester.

Attending, Moderating, Speaking at, and Writing About the Global Health and Innovation 2011 Conference

The Global Health & Innovation Conference was a whirlwind of excitement and inspiration, inducing a flow of racing thoughts, ideas, and epiphanies.  At a reception on the night before the conference, I was able to converse one-on-one with and absorb the wise words of several speakers, which was truly a remarkable way to kick off the weekend.   On the first day of the conference, I served as a moderator and had the honor of introducing presenters on topics ranging from mobile technologies for health to the process of achieving 501(c)(3) status.  On the second day, I attended many engaging presentations and even delivered my own Social Enterprise Pitch about an organization I founded at Yale called World Micro-Market.  The conference provided me, as it did thousands of others, the opportunity to expand my awareness of global issues and innovative models, to network and learn from similarly interested speakers and attendees, and to apply my existing knowledge to new ideas and contexts.

After the conference, I was able to explore further the work of many of the presenters by blogging about their organizations and presentations. The blogs include the following: Ken Cook, Maurice Segall, Mobile Potential Session, Community-Level Social Enterprise Pitches, and Enterprise Solutions.

Writing for Global Health University and the Unite For Sight Blog

I revamped the Health Workers in Developing Countries Online Course by rewriting or supplementing existing modules and by adding modules such as that on Rapid Diagnostic Tests and Mobile Technology.  This course details examples of successful Community Health Worker (CHW) programs. It also examines the myriad roles that CHWs can play, such as in surgical task-shifting, and the newest tools that they can use, such as rapid diagnostic tests for malaria and mobile phones for data transmission.  

For the Certificate in Public Health Management, I wrote an article on Evidence-Based Program Development which explains how the model of rigorous testing of medication before dissemination can be applied to determining the efficacy of social interventions and policies before scaling them up.  In this way, health and social interventions that are based in evidence rather than assumption can accomplish specific goals in the most cost-effective manner. 

Following this idea of prototyping and evaluating social and health interventions, I then wrote six articles for the Certificate in Effective Program Development which include Effective Education, The Safe and Effective Delivery of Immunizations, Improving Treatment Outcomes and Lowering Healthcare Costs with Outpatient Care, Food Aid Program Development, Tech Design, and Synergy.  When writing these articles, I reviewed the most up-to-date research and the most efficacious programs in these different areas.    

Lastly, I wrote several posts for the new Unite For Sight blog, including Evidence-Based Program Design Is Essential, Design for Social Impact, The Impact of Mobile Phones on the Future of Healthcare, and Progress in HIV Prevention—Prophylactic Microbicides and Vaccines.  In writing these blogs, I was able to render the information of some of the above articles more concise and accessible.  I was also able to research some of the conference speakers’ organizations prior to the conference and tie their work together under common themes.

Video Design

To further the message of one of Unite For Sight’s partners, Kalinga Eye Hospital in Orissa, India, I created a short video on its work using footage and photos taken by Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellow volunteers.  I was able to improve my video design skills while learning about Unite For Sight’s support of its partner organizations and the programs they operate to serve the poorest of the poor.

Reflection

Through all of these experiences, I was able to learn first-hand about Unite For Sight’s exemplary model of healthcare delivery—a model which supports the development of local eye clinics, to reach the underserved, and to conduct rigorous monitoring and evaluation.  In due consideration of the harm that foreign volunteers can—and often do—impose upon a community, Unite For Sight ensures that its volunteers do not act unethically, out of the scope of their professional training, or in a self-serving manner.  Based on my experience with Unite For Sight, I have arrived at the conclusion that volunteers can best serve a community by delivering resources (financial, technological, medical, educational, etc.), by collaborating with local community members to assess their needs, and by conducting relevant research in an ethical manner.   On top of ample pre-departure training, Unite For Sight volunteers do precisely this as they deliver high-quality glasses to the clinics and conduct research on topics relevant to the eye clinics.  In addition, I learned about how Unite For Sight as a 501(c)(3) non-profit has been able to minimize overhead costs, to develop a financially sustainable and even profitable model, and to effectively spread its name and work.  Unite For Sight has ingeniously developed the conference not only to bring great minds together to tackle global problems but also to financially support and promote the work of Unite For Sight.  With the conference, Global Health University, and its programs abroad, Unite For Sight is truly a unique organization which represents some of the most forward-thinking practices in non-profit management and global health initiatives.   

In conclusion, the Global Health Leadership Internship has been an eye-opening and highly influential experience.  It has equipped me with the insight and tools necessary to responsibly and effectively contribute to the goals of global health: to improve health worldwide, to promote equitable access to healthcare, and to apply a multidisciplinary approach to health problems and systems.  I am truly grateful for the semester I spent with Unite For Sight broadening my mind, growing personally and professionally, and contributing to such a laudable organization.