Why Global Health?

This post first appeared on Synapse

In the upcoming year, you will be walking alongside my journey and observing the world of diverse disciplines and passions of Global Health professionals through my lens. From political tensions in the Middle East to the interrelationship of neuroscience and ethics in the Bay Area to human rights protests in Hong Kong and China, I will cover global topics affecting the well-being of citizens.

“Why Global Health?” Before conversing in the demographic and epidemiologic shift of infectious diseases, I answer this simple inquiry with an unvarying “Why not?”

Now more than ever, understanding how events like climate change and global migration affect standards of living, particularly in low-middle income countries, is crucial.

I find myself addressing these health gaps with a new mindset and focus. As it turns out, the Institute for Global Health Sciences master’s program is exactly what I needed.

When I completed my undergraduate studies in Neurobiology at UC Berkeley, I hadn’t foreseen entering graduate school one year later, taking on a global perspective of health that goes beyond medicine and public health.

But now as I review the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and analyze the cost-effectiveness of diabetes interventions in Mexico, I know I am lucky to be doing so at a groundbreaking institution.

The Institute for Global Health Sciences (IGHS) celebrated its 20th anniversary in September. Though highlighting many accomplishments, the milestone also allowed for subsequent reflection.

The UCSF master’s program began in 2008 as a seven person cohort while the first PhD students entered in 2016, with the first two degrees being awarded this year. Dr. Madhavi Dandu, director of the IGHS master’s program for the past six years, touches on the enriching nature of these educational experiences.

“We have the opportunity to work with an incredibly diverse group of passionate learners,” Dandu said. “As students and then as alumni, their impact is outsized compared to their numbers. Hearing about their work increases my commitment to global health education.”

While taking on a full class load, master’s students have the option to explore the many facets of Global Health, such as cancer epidemiology and pediatric medicine.

An exciting component is the capstone research, where they are paired with mentors depending on their study, methodology, and area of interest.

Upon planning and developing the project, students defend a full proposal through a qualifying exam at the end of the winter quarter and an oral presentation in the summer quarter.

In the past, individuals have traveled to over 50 countries to do fieldwork and many continue working on the manuscript once the program ends. Addressing hand hygiene in Roatán, Honduras, or analyzing menstrual hygiene management in India are examples of previous projects.

For my capstone, I will be studying the criminal or civil liability implications among patients with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) in the Bay Area. In collaboration with UCSF’s Global Brain Health Institute and UC Hastings, I will conduct a quantitative analysis to evaluate how FTD affects criminal behavior. Not only has this proposal allowed me to take a legal stance on neuroscience, but I will attend bimonthly neuroethics meetings hosted by UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium to supplement my interests.

Students also have opportunities to work with and take classes under Global Health faculty who perform multidisciplinary research. Associate Director Dr. Alden Blair notes the distinctiveness of IGHS.

“I am not sure if I have ever witnessed a [master’s] program that so seamlessly blends the research, advocacy, and partnerships critical to addressing pressing global health issues with an education component grounded in and active engagement by some of the top leaders in the field,” Blair said.

To encourage this, IGHS Executive Director Jaime Sepulveda hosts Grand Rounds on the last Thursday of every month in Mission Hall.

At the last meeting, Dr. Dan Kelly spoke on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the effectiveness of interventions for public health emergencies.

The goal is to highlight the global health implications of various fields while stimulating conversation, and ultimately, to fight for health equity. I look forward to leading the discussion one article at a time here at UCSF.