When I was in medical school, I knew that my future lay in global health. At the time, I did not know that I would concentrate in maternal and reproductive health, just that I had a guiding desire to work with underserved populations and explore cross cultural differences in medicine. Initially, my picture of myself as a global health physician was of someone working in the trenches in far flung places, performing procedures with substandard equipment and saving the day. I will admit that there is a part of myself that still enjoys that image, but I now realize that my job in global health is broader than that. One of my mentors said to me, if you are working in the trenches, you are doing that for yourself. You need to teach; that is the way to create change. I have taken that message to heart, and it has shaped the way I have approached the development of my career in global women’s health. Since that time, I have focused not only on developing excellent clinical skills, but also on mentoring others through the process of global health exploration, and building capacity in foreign hosts who open their hospitals to us.
On a white board in my office, I have written the words – witness, advocate, exchange and improve. Those are my pillars of global health. I share this with every student or resident who comes to me for advice around global health. It is not your job to save the world, I say. And though this seems somewhat obvious, if no one has taken the time to introduce you to the basic tenets of global health practice or some of the ethical debates in its practice, you might continue to move through your experience of global health with this attitude. If no one has taken the time to explain the use of appropriate and sustainable technology in a low resource setting, you might not understand why seemingly simple solutions might not work in the developing world.
In March 2014, I was given a UVM Frymoyer Scholars award in order to move these discussions forward at the College of Medicine. My goal: Development of a global women’s health curriculum for our medical students. With on-campus and online sessions as well as international field experiences, the goal of the pioneering UVM College of Medicine global women’s health program is to inform and enhance the perspectives of trainees, leaving them with an organized and nuanced appreciation for the practice of global women’s health. Again, we do not need to save the world, but we do need be attentive to health disparities across the globe and strive to move toward health care justice. From an introduction to global women’s health, students will begin their own global health journey to witness, advocate, exchange and improve.