Unite for Sight has been at the forefront of providing eye care for the underserved in developing countries. With close two-and-a-half million patients served, over 97,000 sight-restoring surgeries and 10,000 fellows trained in global health, Unite for Sight has had a major impact in several countries.
Since I have trained hundreds of students and international mentors in global health research, I was invited to present insights based on that experience. Here, briefly, are the 6 key attitudes that practitioners must have in order to succeed in their global health experiences:
- Include ALL of your Strengths: It is not only your academic training that will see you through your global health research. It is also your life experiences that can be just as important in your ability to understand and solve a global health problem.
- No Superhero Attitude, Be Humble: Do not go to another country with the attitude "Here I come to save the day!" Helping people with an attitude of humility will have more impact than if you go to your international site as a superior savior. People will be more receptive to your help and, maybe, you will find that there is a lot that you can learn.
- Train with Local Experts: Along the lines of being humble is the awareness that the local people know better than you what is really going on on site. Even the most well-trained doctor or research scientist will find that there is a lot to learn from the local people at an international site. Training with them will not only help you learn about the local situation and allow you to be more effective in it, but also will provide you with skills that you may be able to apply when you return to your home country.
- Emphasize your Reason: Ask yourself: Why am I here? Define your goal. Many people embark on a global health internship with a particular project in mind, yet, it is possible that that particular project may not be the one appropriate to reach the ultimate reason or goal of your international internship. Be willing to change or discard your planned project if you find that another activity may actually be more appropriate for reaching your intended goal.
- Network and Partner: Global health students tend to have the unique opportunity to have several international experiences throughout their careers. One student may do a summer internship as an undergraduate, a semester abroad as a graduate and serve as an international fellow as a postgraduate. I encourage my trainees to find ways to serve as the connection between international researchers who may not otherwise be able to collaborate together. A student interested in a particular research topic may be able to intersect with several researchers on that topic internationally. These are great opportunities to create networks and partnerships for international research collaboration.
- Document lasting Accountability: After students have completed an international experience, they often come back to their "real" life and do not keep in touch with their international mentors or follow up on the international research project that they collaborated in while abroad. In my programs, I insist that international interns must be accountable for the work they did in the other country by documenting their research either in a professional conference and/or a scientific research paper. I have written a workbook: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide to help students and mentors efficiently produce research papers.
Are there other key attitudes that you find useful for those traveling abroad for research and training programs? Write in the comments or send me a message.
Dr. Luz Claudio is the author of the book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide, a workbook that teaches you precisely what to do and when to do it when writing scientific papers. She is a tenured professor of preventive medicine and has mentored hundreds of students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty. She blogs about life in academic research.