Global Health Career FAQs
An interview with INMED President Nicholas Comninellis
What healthcare field or specialty should I enter?
The short answer is, choose the field or specialty that most interests you. There exists a misconception that only primary care specialties are appropriate for low-resource communities. While it is indeed true that the greatest needs in developing nations are in public health and primary care, there is also an important role for specialists. Physical therapists, dentists, ophthalmologists, midwives, orthopedists, pharmacists, plastic surgeons, and researchers, for example, all have unique talents to offer.
Teaching opportunities – generally better suited for those with higher qualifications – are constantly expanding and offer influential positions from which to multiply your skills and impact. There also is a real possibility that at some point in your career you will practice back home. For all these reasons, learners do better when they pursue fields and specialties in which they are genuinely interested.
Should I become a surgeon?
Only those who are genuinely interested in surgery should pursue surgical careers. Many remarkable physicians in international service are surgeons. But there is an important role for a variety of wide variety of specialists and healthcare professionals. What’s more, surgical diseases and procedures in low-resource communities frequently demand skills significantly different from those learned in a North American-style surgical residency.
Often, the very best surgical training is to be mentored by a colleague on site who already has surgical experience in that particular setting. This was my own experience in Angola, southern Africa, where as a family physician I was mentored for six months in Angola-appropriate surgery by a Canadian surgeon on site.
Should I complete a Masters in Public Health degree?
The diseases of poverty that plague low-resource nations are almost entirely preventable, and effective interventions require community-wide participation. For both of these reasons, anyone interested in serving in a low-resource setting should draw upon skills in public health. However, such skills need not be advanced to also be very effective. Proper application of the most basic principles of prevention, cost-effective intervention, and health leadership can yield enormous results. For these reasons, I do not routinely recommend healthcare learners or professionals pursue an additional degree in public health.
Formal training in public health is most appropriate for those who intend to be educators in the field, and/or to make public health their career emphasis. Personally, I began my career by serving in Angola following family medicine residency, and did not complete a public health degree until after my first term. Nevertheless, in Angola I led a very basic but effective community health project. In retrospect I don’t believe that completing my formal public health training in advance would have significantly altered this project.
Should I First Select The Ball Park Or The Ball Team?
In other words, as a person launching your international healthcare career is it better to first choose a particular community to serve, and then select from the available partnering organizations? Or vice versa?
I’ve personally taken both approaches. In the 1980s my main objective was a patient care position in China (the ball park). I next approached some universities and development NGOs in that nation (the ball teams), and in the end partnered with the Shanghai Charity Hospital where I served for a year. In the 1990s I formed a close partnership with the IMB (a ball team), who was active in fifty countries, and from their open positions I selected the nation of Angola (a ball park) where I was on site for two years.
Which approach is superior? Each has distinct pros and cons. First selecting your ball park may be best if you possess a strong attraction to a special community or nation – usually based on prior friendships, language skills, or travel experience. First selecting your ball team may be superior if you’re already attachment to that organization or if they have an appealing record of success. Ultimately, either approach is reasonable and prepares you for what’s most important: actually playing the game.
I’m concerned that financial debt will keep me from the career I dream of.
Debt related to education is a heavy burden and the most common reason stated to me by young people who cannot pursue their intentions for serving forgotten people. Consider the following advice:
- Keep all types of loans to an absolute minimum.
- Following graduation, continue to live on a student budget despite earning an income. Persist in this lifestyle until all debts are paid and savings are secured.
- Look for opportunities today, wherever you are located and regardless of your career status, to provide care for marginalized people. They exist in virtually every community.
- Investigate whether a loan repayment program could be connected with your service.
- Consider employment with a firm, a government, or a university that stations you in a low-resource community or nation. While working hours will likely be in service to the firm, the income earned may eliminate financial concerns, and free time can be used to serve forgotten people on location.
I feel anxious about waiting to launch into my international healthcare career.
Professional healthcare training is a long, strenuous process. While in the midst of this experience take full advantage of your opportunities to grow as a person and live fully today. Connect with God, engage with your family and friends, develop meaningful hobbies, and serve people in the context of your community right now.