Picturing a career in global health, many people envision constant world travel, a jet setting lifestyle that is not amenable to having young children or other ties to a certain home location. Many physicians have told me they have “given up” global health work during a certain period of time, despite having a continued passion for the field. Some have never even pursued their dream of working in global health in the first place because they felt they did not have extended time to dedicate to traveling. All too often, these physicians are women who set aside their dreams to care for family members such as children or parents. And between the demands of medical school, residency, and attending life, it might seem challenging to imagine how people metaphorically “stay in the game” with global health work, outside the ivory towers of academics.
There are so many ways to be involved in meaningful global health work that don’t necessitate spending months or years of your life abroad. Take it from a physician mom who has only spent 3 months “in the field” over my fifteen years working in global health. I’ve never practiced emergency medicine outside the United States. I wasn’t part of the response to the earthquake in Haiti, nor have I ever responded to any natural disaster. I wasn’t on the front lines saving lives during the most recent Ebola epidemic. I wish I could have done those things. I have the utmost respect for those who did and continue to do things like that, but that hasn’t been my role yet in life, for a number of personal reasons. And yet, I’ve spent time almost every single day of those past fifteen years doing global health work, and I believe it has made a true impact. I will attempt to detail a number of ways in which you could continue to push forward a career in global health and never have to set your dreams aside. Those ways fall into the following three categories: time, knowledge, and money.
- Many medical students and physicians who live and work abroad are looking for opportunities to visit the United States and learn about how we deliver care. If you’re willing to help coordinate hosting these visitors, you can help to build capacity of physicians providing care in resource limited settings – and learn a great deal from them in return regarding their own system and culture. Although visiting physicians cannot easily work clinically, they can observe care being delivered, meet with key leaders in the field, and attend educational events. If you are interested in hosting visitors from a certain country, consider contacting the Ambassador for that country via the ACEP International Section directory.
- You may not have months or weeks free to dedicate, but what about an hour or two a day, or a few hours a week? Then you have time to do international volunteer work. Many global health organizations are nonprofits that need assistance from any part of the world, and this can be done remotely. Whatever talents you have can be put to use – grant-writing and fundraising, finance and accounting, social media and marketing, as well as human resources management skills, all are very useful tools in working with a small nonprofit.
- Being willing to cover clinical shifts so that another colleague can travel is a critical way in which you can assist in facilitating global health work. It doesn’t add to your resume, but it certainly helps to make a lot of disaster response work possible.
- Whether you have expertise in tropical infectious diseases or not, if you are emergency medicine trained, you have valuable knowledge to share. Maintaining an educational resource online such as a blog or Twitter account, perhaps focused on a particular area of interest, can be a way you can provide Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM/#FOAMed) to learners worldwide, even from your living room couch. But there’s no need to invent your own outlet for educational resources when there are so many that already exist –African Federation of Emergency Medicine (AFEM) maintains an online Presentation Bank and emergency medicine curriculum, both of which regularly need revisions and updates. To offer your services as a volunteer to AFEM, you can e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You might also like to become a contributor to @globalfoamed, a Twitter global health curriculum.
- Just as many learners are seeking knowledge worldwide, there are also many students and physicians who are starting their careers in emergency medicine and need mentorship. Global Emergency Medicine Academy (GEMA) of SAEM is seeking new mentors to register on their site. The International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) also oversees a project called AuthorAid that runs online courses in proposal writing and research writing and provides mentorship to researchers in low income countries – you can register as a mentor or find worldwide researchers to contact or collaborate with at their website.
- If you are well versed in the principles of research, consider applying to be a reviewer for the Global Emergency Medicine Literature Review. This group performs a comprehensive review of global emergency medicine literature annually. Being a reviewer is a great excuse to look over interesting publications relevant to global health work and stay abreast of cutting edge research. The GEMLR group particularly seeks reviewers who can review articles in a foreign language.
- The African Journal of Emergency Medicine also provides assistance to African authors of manuscripts who have a worthy topic or study for publication, but who need help with refining the language and structure of the manuscript prior to publication. If you provide assistance on the manuscript that fulfills ICMJE criteria for authorship, you may also then be listed as an author on the manuscript. You can apply to become an Author Assistant here.
There is a dire need for funding for many global health endeavors, and a small donation can often go much further when it’s spent in a low-income country. Sometimes, particularly in the case of disaster response, providing money may be more effective than trying to make an individual trip to provide medical care (as well as often being more effective than providing imported medical supplies or items like clothing, which may be able to be sourced locally more cheaply and easily). Many of the projects I have noted above are nonprofit in nature and rely on donated support to provide the services they offer. Consider adding an organization that supports international emergency medicine development or global health to your holiday giving list. If you’ve got no time to spare, and don’t feel able to provide knowledge through the channels listed here, your financial support could still be a critical part of bringing emergency medical care to places where it is desperately needed.
I urge you, if you hope to start or continue working in the field of global health in the future, consider joining one or more of the organizations above, and participating in global health-related events at conferences like ACEP or SAEM. All are welcome, even if you do not have extensive field experience or are unable to currently travel for whatever reason. The networking you can do with a constellation of fascinating people and the knowledge you will gain in the process will be an invaluable foundation for your future global health work, whatever it may be.
Do you know of other ways that physicians with a passion for global health and international emergency medicine can stay in the game without leaving their hometown? Please comment and share!
Disclaimer: I practice what I preach and have participated in or continue to participate in most of the listed opportunities above, including running a global health nonprofit and the @globalfoamed curriculum.