This May, I had the incredible opportunity of attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, here’s a bit on how I got involved in global health and ideas on how you can get involved too.
If you are premed, I 100% recommend studying abroad, especially if you’re interested in global health. My study abroad experience had a tremendous impact on my passion for global health, as well as the opportunities that came my way that have led me to today. I will probably talk about study abroad in another post, to not make this too long.
So long story short, in Fall of 2014 I went on the SIT Global Health and Development Policy Program and then in Spring of 2015 I studied at the University of Lausanne, alongside interning at the WHO Program on Emergency and Essential Surgical Care.
Now, how does one get an internship at the WHO?
Email and Networking. I basically looked up departments I was interested in and cold emailed all of them about potentially doing an internship during my spring semester. You could apply through the WHO’s website but that’s slow and chances are it never goes through that way. If you know someone who has connections, ask. Since many people who taught in my Fall program were from huge global health organizations, I would ask if they had any leads. Some people in my program landed summer internships that way.
I was incredibly lucky because my internship was in a department that had a lot of flexibility so I was able to do it while taking classes to still be a full time student at my university. Even so, I still went to work 4 days of the week with 2 of them being full days and the commute from Lausanne to Geneva became very exhausting very fast. People who do internships at the WHO or any other international organization in Geneva usually do it full time for at least 6 weeks. But I wouldn’t have been able to take a summer to do the internship without funding, so doing it during the semester abroad was great since I had financial aid for the semester to back me up.
So during my internship I mainly helped with the projects the department was working on, which at the time was developing the first Resolution on Emergency and Essential Surgical Care, developing guidelines for surgical care in the context of Ebola, and a promotional film for the department. One project I was able to work independently on was surveying to what extent surgical care is mentioned in the national health care plans of the 194 member states of the WHO. I didn’t know much about global surgery before my internship and even though I’m not sure if I actually want to be a surgeon, I can definitely say global surgery has a become a big interest of mine.
While, I was on my internship I heard about an international medical student group called IFMSA and I attended their spring regional conference called EuRegMe. I got to meet medical students from all over. IFMSA has 6 different committees, on human rights, reproductive health, public health, medical education, research exchanges, and professional exchanges. Each committee consists of members from all over the world and run various projects on their own. As of right now I’m part of a few small working groups, such as one on promoting public health education in medical school curricula. IFMSA holds regional and international conferences all over the world and every May they send delegates to the World Health Assembly.
I didn’t attend the World Health Assembly through IFMSA this year, but I actually went with a student group called InciSioN, which has students from all over the world who are passionate about global surgery. I’m part of InciSioN’s education sub team and we work on projects to educate more students about global surgery. I’m glad I went with InciSioN to Geneva this year, as it wasn’t too overwhelmingly large of a group, which made it easier to bond with everyone. The global surgery community we met at the World Health Assembly events is so friendly and inclusive, which made it much less intimidating to network with people. At some point I was chatting with people, who I didn’t even realize were very important people.
So if you’re interested in global health policy, I recommend attending the World Health Assembly. To be honest, you don’t even have to be part of a group to go. You really can just go to the events. Some require registration, particularly ones in the UN, but as someone interested in global health you can just go. You can meet up with the bunch of students attending and make new friends or not. It’s an experience where you can make it what you want. I do recommend making friends there since it’ll be lonely. I hope to go again next year, so if anybody wants to join me, let me know 🙂
Here are links to all of the stuff I mentioned above and more:
Follow AMSA’s global health team for more global health related posts: @amsa.globalhealth
Sample list of side events that went on this year: http://g2h2.org/posts/event/wha71-sideevents/
SIT Global Health Program: https://studyabroad.sit.edu/programs/semester/spring-2018/szh/