A Weekend at the Canadian Global Health Students and Young Professionals Summit
Recently, I travelled to Ottawa with sixteen of my Global Health classmates to attend the Canadian Global Health Students and Young Professionals Summit.
The event was worth the trip. We were treated to a jam-packed day full of poster presentations, thought-provoking workshops, and insightful keynote speakers and panelists. Here are a few of my takeaways from the Summit.
It’s good to feel uncomfortable
As a grad student, I find myself feeling uncomfortable a lot more than I did as an undergraduate. Before. I could hide out in the basement of the library, look through archives and write history papers in the comfort of my own mind. Now I find myself being pushed out of the library and into the world. Whether it’s emailing faculty in search of a thesis supervisor, sitting in on a LHIN meeting with healthcare practitioners much older, wiser, and more experienced than I am, or approaching a speaker after their presentation to ask questions, I find myself reaching out in ways an undergraduate me would have recoiled from. It’s scary putting ourselves out there, risking being rejected or just sounding like we don’t know what we’re talking about. But as several of the speakers touched on last weekend, this is the way to learn. As students, nobody expects us to be perfect, but people do expect us to be curious, engaged, and courageous, no matter how uncomfortable that may feel. If we can get used to being uncomfortable, then growth becomes the new normal.
Global Health alumni abound
I met five McMaster Global Health alumni last weekend. There were alumni presenting posters (along with several of my classmates) on everything from the impacts of globalization on Inuit health to the structural violence present in the Australian healthcare system. Alumni ran workshops and even presented on panels. Most exciting was the wide range of experiences and knowledge they had. It speaks to the strength of the diversity of our program, with people coming from different academic and cultural backgrounds to study together for a term, before diverging again to embark on a diverse range of experiences for the second and third terms. We have a tremendous pool of knowledge and experience here not just from the faculty, but from the student-alumni network as well.
We must approach global health in the “right” way, but we haven’t really figured out what that way is yet
The Summit’s closing keynote speaker was Chris Houston, from Grand Challenges Canada. After a day filled with speakers and networking opportunities dedicated to helping us as students build careers in Global Health, his remarks brought us back to the uncomfortable and often unreconcilable realities and challenges of working in this field. First off, it can downright dangerous. He spoke about the fourteen of his colleagues who had been killed while working for Médecins sans Frontiers. He also spoke of the underdiscussed reality that many health development and outreach workers suffer from PTSD and depression upon returning from the field. This is not a career one embarks on lightly.
As I drove home from Ottawa Sunday night, Chris Houston’s closing statement kept running through my mind. At the heart of it is a paradox we all face: if we are not working in global health development with the goal of eventually erasing the field of global health development, then we are working for the wrong reasons. The goal of working with underserved communities should be to eliminate inequities and thus eliminate the need for our work in those communities.
Today, however, a lot of global health research and design is more focussed on developing high tech innovations and publishing ground-breaking studies, a situation which often distracts attention from the patients most impacted by these health problems and interventions. As students, these are issues we will have to grapple with as we begin to navigate this challenging field.
Amelia BoughnStudent Blog