Module 1: Why Global Health (GH) Careers Matter

1.1 What is Global Health & Why Does it Matter?

Due to modern advances in transportation systems, diseases can now propagate quickly across national borders. The spread of infectious diseases like SARS, avian flu and drug resistant TB testifies to the mobility of disease in an increasingly connected world. The current H1N1 influenza pandemic further illustrates this phenomenon, as the virus spreads from Mexico to the rest of the world in a matter of weeks. Consequently, cooperation across borders is now necessary to fight disease. Countries can no longer fight disease in isolation, but instead, they must pool their resources and expertise.

According to Families USA, “global health refers to health problems that transcend national borders – problems such as infectious and insect-borne diseases that can spread from one country to another. It also includes health problems that are of such magnitude that they have a global political and economic impact.”(1)Global health uses a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to arrive at solutions to health problems, drawing on expertise from various fields of knowledge such as economics, anthropology, politics, etc. In a world where healthcare resources are unequally distributed, practitioners of global health also work to ensure a more equitable distribution of money and resources.

Moreover, some even feel that global health issues must be addressed on grounds of morality. Developed countries have a moral obligation to help relieve the needless suffering of millions in developing countries, where the global burden of disease is concentrated, because they possess the technical know-how, and often even the financial resources to do so. They must prevent what anthropologist-physician Paul Farmer calls “stupid deaths” or unnecessary deaths. The deaths are unnecessary because the technologies to address the health problem exist, but are often not available to the poor, who could not afford medical care.

Currently, some global health concerns include maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases (tuberculosis, cholera, malaria, swine flu etc.) and poor health systems.

1.2 Growing Interest in Global Health (GH)

There is growing interest in global health careers amongst students:

"Around the nation, the number of schools of public health now stands at 38, up from 27 a decade ago, according to the Association of Schools of Public Health, based in Washington, D.C. In those schools, the association found the 69 % increase in students studying international health.”(2)

In addition to the rise in the number of schools of public health, many universities are also setting up global health initiatives and learning centers (look at Yale University’s Global Health Leadership Institute & Princeton University’s Center for Health and Wellbeing) in an effort to build a new generation of health workers who are engaged in global health. Through global health conferences, course offerings, public health grand rounds and on-campus speeches and presentations given by noted global health leaders, students are increasingly drawn to the dynamic and challenging field of global health. 

1.3 Global Health (GH) Careers: Preparation

In general, there are two types of global health careers: clinical and non-clinical. Those interested in a non-clinical GH career usually earn an advanced degree (master’s or doctorate) from an accredited school of public health in order to seek employment successfully in this field. Some public health disciplines include:

Job prospects for those who are interested in GH careers are excellent, given that 250,000 additional public health specialists are required by 2020(3)

In addition, for those interested in a clinical career, they will normally have to pursue an MD, and obtain training in a medical specialty such as family medicine, tropical diseases, infectious diseases, obstetrics, gynecology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, ophthalmology, and psychiatry. Medical workers are always in high demand in resource-poor settings. Moreover,

“For those considering short GH assignments, emergency medicine has the advantage of time flexibility. Short-term assignments can readily be arranged with NGOs working on refugee and humanitarian crisis situations and U.S. hospitals are always in need of EM doctors or locum, arrangements that are more difficult to find employment in a long-term assignment but have many opportunities for short-term visits as part of a fly-in surgical team that both operates and trains local surgeons. Examples of specialties with well-established contributions include ophthalmology, otolaryngology, orthopedics and plastic surgery.”(4)

Also, many have also chosen to pursue an advanced degree from a School of Public Health in addition to an MD for career flexibility. 

1.4 Global Health Careers: Some Advice

Here’s some advice for those who are interested in Global Health:(5)

Go To Module 2: Nonprofits & Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) >>


(1) "Why Global Health Matters." FamiliesUSA - Global Health Initiative. FamiliesUSA. 15 Jul 2009.

(2) Donnelly. John. "Students Called to Global Service," The Boston Globe 04 Jun 2007. Web.25 Jun 2009.

(3) Broder, Michael. "03.05.2008 - Public-health worker shortage will leave the nation vulnerable, according to new ASPH report." UCBerkeleyNews. 05 Mar 2008. University of California - Berkeley. 15 Jul 2009.

(4) Hall, Thomas L.. "Global Health: Global Options & Specialization." 01 Feb 2006 Web.15 Jul 2009.

(5) Adapted from Thurman, Rosetta. "Jobs for Change - YNPN Wednesday: 4 ways to Take Your Nonprofit Career from 0 to 60." 10 Jun 2009. 15 Jul 2009.