Reflecting on CUGH 2017

When I first heard of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) in a conversation among colleagues in Mission Hall, I immediately knew I wanted to be part of the 2017 CUGH conference.

My first impression when I arrived at the conference was the diversity of the crowd – I knew then I was at home. If the crowds weren’t overwhelming enough, then the agenda certainly was. Selecting sessions to attend became a challenge. As you can imagine, being a novice in global health, I wanted to explore every topic and find out everything about the trends in Africa. With all these variables at play, I had to put on the “Alden hat” (Alden Blair teaches statistical analysis in the Global Health Sciences master’s program) and figure out which sessions would be of significant value to me as a student. In the end, I focused on sessions that would expand my understanding of global health and help me navigate a career path.

The session Make your Mark: Conquering Challenges to Establish a Career in Global Health was particularly helpful to me. The panel included successful women who have certainly made a mark in their respective global health areas, such as Sharon Rudy (director of the USAID Global Health Fellows Program) and Loyce Pace (president and executive director of the Global Health Council). Their personal stories reassured students in the room who felt they might not yet have what it takes to make a mark in global health. The women spoke of their journey and how, in most cases, it was their passion and fierce dedication that had opened doors for advancement. This was important to know; students in my cohort often discuss getting a PhD as the next step, but after this session, it was clear that hands-on experience is possibly one of the greatest assets in global health.

One of the most applicable and timely quotes that I heard was from Dr. Peter Cherutich, deputy director of medical services from Kenya’s Ministry of Health, who said, “Ministries of Health are ministries of implementation science.” The speakers on the panel, Implementation Science: The Signature of Global Health, reminded us how researchers have been collecting health data for decades, but the principles of implementation science could give those studies a foundation that is more likely to be sustainable and impactful in different contexts.

The best part of the CUGH conference was that it felt like an extension of my classes. On the second day of the conference, I Skyped into my Health Systems class, where the topic of debate was the “Pros and Cons of Foreign Aid.” Coincidentally, that same day Ambassador Jimmy Kolker remarked at the conference that, “Foreign aid is a last-century idea. Countries want technical expertise and partnership.” I was able to share this perspective with the class team that was against foreign aid, and a classmate used it as part of her closing arguments for the debate. My only disappointment was that there had not been more representatives from my cohort at the conference. The topics covered reflected a lot of their interests, and I also felt nostalgia when I saw cohorts from Duke and other schools that were heavily represented.

Another valuable aspect of the CUGH conference for me was being able to interact with multiple key global health players from other countries who are making notable changes in global health.

Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised by the respect and admiration that UCSF has as an institution. Yes, most people know that UCSF is amazing, but when you’re in a gathering where most institutions represented are amazing and your institution still manages to score praise each time you mention it, then you know that’s worth acknowledging. Students from other institutions and in different programs sought me out to learn more about our Global Health Sciences program, while faculty members and collaborators from other institutions and countries spoke highly of past and current projects led by UCSF staff and alumni. It gave me immense pride to be a part of this institution and reminded me that the work we do has an impact locally and globally.