Maybe it was a documentary, a friend from church who came back from a mission trip to Peru or South Africa who came back with stories, or a parent who is a doctor or nurse—there are many early influences on teens that lead them to consider studying and a career path working toward global health. It’s never too early to get started on developing your knowledge and skills to work on the world’s biggest, toughest health challenges.
Here are five pieces of advice (and GIFs) you need to build a successful future working in global health:
1. Study what makes you happy. Can you find a way to connect your love of medieval English and HIV? How about economics and early childhood education? There is no better time than in your undergraduate career to try out classes and subjects that interest you, even if they aren’t narrowly global health-focused. (Outside of class, you can also join clubs like Model UN or the UNICEF Campus Initiative or Rotary.) Trust that your well-rounded education will prepare you for almost anything the world throws at you and that you will find a way to mesh your interests. If your university doesn’t offer the course you want, you can usually set up an independent study (talk to your academic advisor) and you can also try out online classes for free on MOOCs like Coursera or EdX.
2. Go abroad. Find a study abroad program in the place you want to visit, apply to work at a summer camp abroad so you make money and a free ticket to a new country. The best investment you can make in gaining cultural awareness is going to a new place with new people and learning everything you can. There are many study abroad scholarships and fellowships, even at the high school level, for young people keen to broaden their horizons. When you get there, don’t be just a tourist—when in Rome, do like the Romans do.
3. Volunteer and intern early and often. Every day during your college years, you should learn something new in class and something new outside of it. A volunteering or internship gig will help you do that, learning how to work in an office environment, how to collaborate with other staff and will allow you to explore global health interests outside of class. Good resources for internship opportunities are Idealist.org and your student careers center. If you can’t find the exact opportunity you are looking for, consider contacting professionals you know and admire for an informational interview to learn about their work, how they got there, and advice on seeking an internship.
4. Do hard, crazy things. People who have led interesting lives have awesome stories to tell, have an easier time connecting with other human beings and usually are comfortable working in environments that are constantly fluid, which is especially relevant in global health and development. Doing things outside of your comfort zone, whether it is reading aloud at a poetry jam or jumping out of an airplane or volunteering at a hospice center will help you grow and help you learn more about yourself. Plus these stories make for great scholarship and GHC fellowship application essays!
5. Read a lot. Make a commitment to read a newspaper each day, such as the International New York Times or The Guardian and blogs such as The Lancet’s Global Health blog. Read highly rated books about global health and aid and development, both critical and inspiring. If you need inspiration, look at course descriptions and required reading lists for global health classes. Once you find a particular area of global health you love, such as reproductive health, starting reading peer-reviewed journals; the more comfortable you become with data and science-based publications, the more easily you will be able to understand the scientific basis for global health programs and speak global health fluently.