Thinking of choosing a career in global health? Check out this interview with IRLS plenary lecturer Dr. Christian Kraeker, where he not only highlights what led him to choose a career in global health, but also shares advice for those thinking of following a similar path.
What does ‘global health’ mean to you?
I think the term global health is somewhat of a newer term; it used to be confused or likened to international health and when people thought about international health, they thought about travelling from a developed setting to a developing setting with the idea of providing a service or learning something. Overtime this has morphed into the term global health, which certainly does include traveling and building capacity overseas, but it’s also something that can happen here in Canada and North America. In general global health means that you are doing the best to advocate for your patients’ rights, including medically, socially and politically, and when this is taken overseas it is to a place where it is needed and where it is wanted. Overall I think global health takes a step past international health to recognize that the things we are doing overseas we should also be doing here, and vice versa.
What led you to focus on global health?
I have been asked this many times and I don’t know the exact answer. When I was a medical student in my first year I decided to take a trip with a medical mission team to Ecuador, and for the life of me I don’t know why I did it, but it led me down the path that I have chosen as my career. I guess I just felt it was the right thing to do. I’d been given such a beautiful gift to become a physician and I was being entrusted with patients’ information, and I was put in this position where I felt I should use it in some way and that’s what ended up happening. So that very short trip to Ecuador has shaped my career and path, and also a lot of my philosophy on how to treat patients.
What advice would you give to a resident with an interest in global health?
First you have to realize that if you are going to travel overseas and if you are going to do that kind of work, you really have to recognize that you should be doing work that is wanted from the people you will be joining in their own communities. People have knowledge and capacity; sometimes people just need a bit of help with things like teaching. Often we from the west travel over and we think we are going to be contributing so much, but I think the advice would be to keep an open mind, be humble, and recognize that you are probably going to learn more than you can give during your training years. But you can use that information to guide your career to the point where you can build relationships with people overseas that are consistent, ethical and moral. So I would really, really advice people to be humble and to keep an open mind, recognizing that you are going to learn more than you can give. It’s a great career path, I have definitely learned more than I have given, and I can’t stress the importance of building relationships and making sure that what you are doing is wanted and right based on what the people overseas request.