Faculty panel discusses careers in public and global health

From left to right: Leslie Cordes, Noelle Sullivan, Michael Diamond, Juliet Sorensen, and Sarah Rodriguez

When it comes to global health studies, many students are left wondering how to practically engage with the material learned in class while still making an income and supporting themselves. On May 1, the Office of International Program Development / Global Health Studies brought five faculty members from different disciplines together to talk about practical careers in public and global health.

“The field of global health is way broader than we sometimes think,” said panelist Dr. Noelle Sullivan, a lecturer in Global Health Studies and the Department of Anthropology, in Weinberg. “We need people with degrees all over the spectrum.”

Dr. Sullivan discussed her training, from a Master’s in African and African American Studies to a PhD in Medical Anthropology, which led her into the field of global health. Her major contribution to global health, as she sees it, is through teaching students that will be the “movers and shakers” of the future.

Michael Diamond, Adjunct Lecturer in Global Health Studies in Weinberg, stressed the importance of engaging with our local communities and building networks within them.

“A lot of what happens in the rest of the world is happening in our communities,” Diamond said.

Growing up, his local connections to the YMCA in New York afforded him the opportunity to work at the YMCA International headquarters in Geneva. Currently, he is working on a project with the Erie Family Health Center and the Skokie Public Library to help individuals access health in the local Evanston and Skokie communities in what he calls “glocal” engagement.

Dr. Leslie Cordes, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Feinberg School of Medicine, emphasized the importance of her experience abroad in Pakistan in 1984 in shaping her career in global health. Her main takeaway for students was to keep an open mind to career options and to stay aware of what is going on in the world.

“There are career opportunities and options even later in life,” she said to students who may not know exactly how to engage with public and global health work after graduation. Cordes used her story as an example, as she is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health 30 years after graduating.

Panelist Sarah Rodriguez, lecturer in Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine, spoke on her “meandering way” of getting into global health. She encouraged the audience to consider careers in academia or clinical ethics, a field that deals with medical cases with ethical tensions.

Juliet Sorensen, a Clinical Associate at the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern Law School, explained the Access to Health Project, an interdisciplinary approach to improving health access, bringing in students from Northwestern’s law school, medical school, and business school. In her opinion, large research universities like Northwestern have an obligation to leverage resources and expertise and be globally minded. Sorensen also highlighted the underlying importance of partnership to the success of any global health project.

“For a sustainable project to be successful in the long run, you absolutely have to have that community investment and buy in,” she said.

The stories of all five panelists made it clear that there is no one best route to getting into global health. The process is different for everyone and is shaped largely by real-world experiences. The panel demonstrated the collaborative nature of global health work, requiring minds from all fields to come together and create innovative solutions. All of the panelists mentioned the importance of connections, networking, and staying in touch with friends from college and beyond.

“It’s all about collaboration,” Professor Diamond said.

The key, he says, is to balance practical engagement with academics. Too many people want to do good without looking at best practices or talking to other groups with similar endeavors. Students who study global health receive a wealth of knowledge that must be turned around and applied to real-world problems. This panel was a launching pad for students to consider how their experiences can be applied in public and global health careers.

“I really appreciated hearing about the multidisciplinary aspects of global health careers,” said McCormick junior Regan Via. “It was encouraging to see the panelists who were very fulfilled by their careers and were also making very positive impacts in the world.”

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