Building a clinical medicine and global health career, with pediatric infectious diseases specialist Sarah Labuda

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Sarah Labuda, a physician and medical epidemiologist focusing on global health. They discuss Sarah’s passion for both global health and clinical practice, how Sarah found her way to public health, and advice for students who are mapping out their own career paths.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Sarah’s experiences working in pediatrics and global health
  • What inspired Sarah to pursue a career in global health
  • Advice for students who are interested in pursuing a career in global health
  • What learning resources are available for gaining skills needed in public health
  • What a day in Sarah’s life looks like
  • The importance of asking questions and speaking to others working in fields that you are interested in
  • The importance of self reflection and determining your core values and goals
  • How you can gain more experience in global health

Today’s Guest:

Dr. Sarah Labuda is a physician and medical epidemiologist with a passion for global health and public health practice, clinical medicine, and helping students and trainees planning for satisfying and impactful careers in global health. She has practiced urgent care and full-scope general pediatrics in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Lousiana; provided specialty care to children with sickle cell disease in Angola; and worked in public health at the state, national, and international levels focusing on HIV, Tuberculosis, Hansen’s Disease, and malaria control. She completed both her undergraduate and medical degrees at Texas A&M University; Pediatric Residency at the University of Arkansas for the Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Arkansas; Masters of Public Health degree with certificate in global health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Pediatric Infectious Diseases Fellowship at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Sarah 0:00
Fully recognizing what’s most important to you in life, what you cherish the most, what you want to spend your most time doing, and then building a career that fits in with those core values. That’s one of the biggest things that I also think about looking back.

Sujani 0:19
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with, join us weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:35
Hi Sarah, and welcome to our podcast. I’m so happy to have you on just to talk about, you know, your career journey, but also, what I see as a similar mission that you and I both have in terms of just supporting the workforce behind public health. So this is going to be a very, very kind of fulfilling conversations, not only for our audience, but I think for me personally as well. So welcome, and thank you.

Sarah 1:03
Thank you so much for having me. Sujani. I’m so excited to be here.

Sujani 1:06
Yeah. Okay, so the question I like to start with our guests is kind of how you discovered the world of public health as a field. And, you know, for many of the people that I’ve interviewed, it’s, it’s been kind of like this accidental discovery, the field of public health, because it’s not something that I guess they’ve learned about, similar to myself when they were younger, similar to like a teacher or a police officer, doctor. It wasn’t a role that was, I guess, marketed, if you will, for lack of a better word. So curious to hear because you know, you are a physician and medical epidemiologist, and kind of like the work that you do falls under Global Health and Public Health. And so that discovery of public health as a field, I’m- I’m wondering when that took place during your career.

Sarah 1:55
For me, it’s exactly as you described, it was sort of an accidental discovery. But it was a perfect fit. For me from the beginning, I just had no idea. That’s the piece of my medical training that I actually liked. I was accepted to medical school, I was one of those people. And I honestly, I hate to talk about this. But I was admitted to medical school when I was 18, which is not common in the United States, I got my admission, guaranteed when I started undergraduate. So I was committed to medicine from a very young age. And I was fully convinced, you know, I’m going to be a rural family medicine doctor in Texas. And this is what my career is going to be from the time I was 18 years old. But then by the time I got into medical school, obviously, I matured a lot over four years of undergraduate studies. And one of the very first things that I got involved with as a medical student, was an organization that did outreach to rural areas and connected the population to local resources. It was kind of a public health one on one experience for me as a medical student, but I had no idea that that was public health at the time building partnerships and strengthening access to health care at the population level for these vulnerable populations in rural areas of Central Texas. So that was really my first introduction to public health. But it took me about seven more years to realize that that was actually public health that I was doing that I really enjoyed. So it wasn’t until I finished residency training, and I tried to be a general pediatrician and didn’t enjoy it. And I sort of had a existential crisis at the age of 29. When I thought this is what I’ve been working for, for 11 years, you know, this is exactly what I thought I was supposed to be doing. And it just doesn’t bring me the satisfaction that I thought it would. So within six months of finishing residency and starting work as a pediatrician, and I also started a master’s in public health program. And so that’s when I finally fully committed that, oh, yeah, this is exactly what I always wanted to do from the beginning. I just had no idea it was public health at the time.

Sujani 3:54
So in that like six month period, where you’re kind of trying to figure out what it is that you wanted to do, did that experience, you mentioned kind of working in rural health during your medical school training, did that kind of come back as a way for you just to figure out what it is that you wanted to do in the future? Like, I’m trying to kind of understand what took place in those six months for you to say, Okay, I’m gonna go get a Master’s of Public Health degree.

Sarah 4:20
Well, it was really an evolution over those seven years, there were more experiences that I had, the thing that pushed me into global health specifically was a fourth year medical student rotation that I was able to go spend time in Tanzania, and do some global health work as a medical student, and I thought, Oh, this is it for me. But once again, I didn’t know Global Health was a career option. So I just thought, Oh, I’ll be do the rural medicine that I think I’m supposed to do. And do some volunteer work on the side and that’s how I’ll get to do global health. And then as a resident is when I finally realized that there were some ways to do both public health and clinical medicine or deleverage that clinical training into a career in public health. And I knew at least one or two other residents who actually did the same program I ended up applying to. Because I’m old enough that this was over 10 years ago now, online programs were not very common. And Johns Hopkins was one of the only ones that I knew of that had a part time online master’s of public health program. And that’s the only MPH program I applied to and I got accepted. So I was just very lucky that everything lined up, and I was able to get into the the training that I needed for the skills to actually do the work that I had wanted to do from the beginning.

Sujani 5:38
Okay. And do you see that now, in present day that trainees, like medical students do see global health or public health as a career option? Or are you kind of seeing the similar environment that you did your training in?

Sarah 5:53
The students that I interact with already have an interest in public health, specifically, many are in joint programs where they’re getting both their medical degree and a master’s in public health at the same time, and I had no idea that was an option I didn’t like I said, I didn’t even know that was what I was interested in for almost seven years. So I had no idea that I could have done that, there seems to be a lot more of awareness about public health as a field in general among the students, especially that I interact with. And I think there’s a lot more opportunities for trainees to get more global health experience than when I was in training. But at the same time, global health and public health career tracks are still not as direct or as common or like a primary option for trainees. So I think it’s still similar to what I experienced, it’s still a field where you kind of have to find your own way. And really work to seek out mentors and examples of career tracks so that you actually can kind of figure out how to put it all together. And so that’s, that’s kind of where I am now.

Sujani 6:52
Yeah. And that’s great. I think like you being at a physician, pure culture, kind of like Career Strategist, just guiding these individuals is excellent, because I wasn’t trained in medicine. But you know, I think when we just start off our undergraduate or graduate school, or even medical school, you go in with one vision, and then the experiences, whether that’s in school, or your life experiences, change the path that you had initially set yourself on, and people and mentors, especially are going to be so pivotal in terms of just helping you guide kind of your career. And what are some common questions, I guess that you hear from medical students who are exploring this field or this intersection of their clinical work as well as either global health or public health? And what are they often confused with when they come to you?

Sarah 7:45
Well, I think the first thing that people often ask is, “What can I do as a student to get experience that will get me prepared for a job in global health?” And there are so many things that I sort of stumbled my way through as a trainee. So that’s one of the big pieces is thinking, you know, long term, what can I do now, that really gets me where I want to be. And there were so many things I avoided. So some of the things that I always tell people are like being involved in research activities, I avoided research, like the plague as a medical student, I had thought I have no interest. I don’t even want to try, it seems terrible. It seems boring. And it wasn’t until, let’s see, I think I started fellowship in 2014. So over 10 years after I started medical school was the first time I ever had experience in research, because I had avoided it for that whole time. And once I finally did some, I realized how much I use those skills every day in my public health and global health work. It’s not necessarily that I’m a researcher, but using data for decision making, understanding how to manage and analyze data, those are huge pieces of what we do in public health. And so just the idea that there’s only one outcome that if I do research, then I am a researcher, you know, kind of shifting that mindset of it is one of the first steps that I work on.

Sujani 9:14
Yeah. Are there courses that, you know, you could take as a medical student, I am wondering if there’s like elective options that could help them prepare for a career in public health.

Sarah 9:25
It really depends on the medical school. Most curricula are very structured, and there’s not so much flexibility, and things like that, but like I said, there are medical schools that have a joint MD and MPH program, it adds a year, often so four years of medical school plus one year to do the master’s degree. But then you get all of the epidemiology, all of the statistics, all of those quantitative skills and training that you need to apply for a career in public health built into the medical training that you’re going to be doing anyway. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s lots of free online sort of courses, if you’re very self motivated, if you’re interested and are willing to try and to learn, there’s lots of great options online that I like using the resource called Coursera, which offers lots of free courses from different universities all over. And those are sort of vetted resources that can really teach you a lot of skills. If you’re on a more limited budget or limited time, there’s a whole range of opportunities.

Sujani 10:24
Just going back to kind of your your timeline of events that took place in your career. You graduated from medical school, and then you said you were doing your residency. And then you apply to John Hopkins, you got into the master’s program, and you are completing that on a part time basis. And so what was happening kind of in your quote, unquote, work life in parallel to that MPH degree?

Sarah 10:49
I was working in pediatric urgent care. So it was evening and weekend job, and I worked 16 to 18 shifts per month, and that was considered full time. So as exhausting as residency is, you know, we get used to working an average of 80 hours a week for those years of training, all of a sudden, I was only working about half the days that each month, so I felt like I had all the time in the world. So for me having a part time online program was a great option. I was also volunteering at a community free clinic and working some locum tenens, as well. So locum tenens, is the fancy Latin term we use in medicine, basically for being a substitute doctor. So when a doctor in private practice needs someone to cover their clinic or their schedule, you can be hired to do those jobs on a temporary basis. So I found lots of little things to piece together to both develop my skills as a general pediatrician, which are very useful to have in public health, but also having the time to study and to put into my master’s of public health work.

Sujani 11:50
Okay. And then 2012, you graduate from that, and then did like, a completely new career path open up for you. Okay, let’s hear about that.

Sarah 12:01
So one thing I didn’t say is that I do all along that I thought I was interested in in the infectious disease specialty. But that was three more years of training after residency. So I applied to one position at the end of residency, and I was just like, I don’t think I can do this right now. So then I applied again, after my public health degree. But at the same time, I also applied to the Baylor international Pediatric AIDS Initiative Program, which has a group called the Global Health Corps. So they hire physicians to go provide technical assistance and support and do also direct clinical care, in clinics, mostly throughout Sub Saharan Africa, but they also have some locations now in Latin America, and others as well. And most focus on HIV AIDS and pediatric populations, as the name sort of suggests, but what I ended up doing was accepting a position with them that was starting a newborn screening sickle cell disease program for the country of Angola. So it was hired for a job in a Portuguese speaking country, and I didn’t speak Portuguese at the time. So it was a big challenge, you know, just finishing my Master’s of Public Health and being told, okay, here’s a job go start a whole new program.

Sujani 13:15

Sarah 13:15
It was quite an adventure. But there was a team of four of us working together on it. It was- it was the most, I would say, frustrating and complicated and incredible experience of my life getting to have that first experience and global health.

Sujani 13:32
And was your team. You said there was four of you? Were they from similar backgrounds? And were they all starting out in this like area of public health? Okay, so you had to kind of all figure it out together.

Sarah 13:45
Exactly. Exactly.

Sujani 13:47
Okay. And that was- that was a year in Angola?

Sarah 13:50
Correct. Yes. This is another point that I always like to give students and trainees as we go along. And my story is that I knew infectious disease is what I was most interested in all along. And yet my first job was in chronic disease, or because sickle cell disease is a genetic disease that affects the formation of hemoglobin and the ability of the body to carry oxygen to tissues. So I knew I wanted to work in the field overall of global health. And this was an opportunity for me to get global health experience. And even though it wasn’t the specific disease process, I thought I was interested in, I was able to use all of the skills that I still use today, I was able to develop those skills for monitoring and evaluation, program development, building capacity in the local healthcare workforce, you know, all of these things, apply whatever the disease is, whether it’s muscle disease, or tuberculosis or anything else.

Sujani 14:44
Yeah. And was that like interest in infectious disease? Something you discovered during your master’s program, or was that further back throughout that seven year kind of exploration?

Sarah 14:56
Yeah, it was long ago. It will-

Sujani 14:57

Sarah 14:58
It was earlier in medical training, I was able to do some infectious disease rotations, I did one during medical school with adult infectious disease specialists, and then another in residency with pediatric infectious disease specialists. And it was just my favorite specialty of any of the rotations that I did.

Sujani 15:17
As I’m hearing your story, it’s almost like you had all these little puzzle pieces in your pocket. And then slowly, you’re kind of like taking them out and putting them all together.

Sarah 15:26
Exactly. It’s, you know, seeing long term, when you’re you have such a so many years of training to get where you want to be, it can be so hard to see, like, how am I ever gonna get there? How do I stay focused? Why does it have to take so long?

Sujani 15:42
Yeah, exactly. And I think it kind of like goes back to the work that you’re doing now, we’ll kind of like continue, I’m sure everyone wants to hear where you are now. But I just want to touch again on like the work that you’re doing guiding other trainees and medical students in terms of like how to build a career in global health. And I think I was reading on your site where you are helping individuals tailor a career strategy based on their interests and core values. And, you know, just hearing your story, it’s almost like you’re always thinking about it, even if it doesn’t seem like it. During that moment, you know, you’re going to classes, you’re going to work, you’re going through training. And it can feel kind of frustrating and overwhelming, because, you know, you have this interest, but you don’t know how to get there. But you’re you know, working hard, day to day, but then when that kind of all lines up, are those puzzle pieces fit together, you kind of reflect and go, Okay, that’s why I’ve had those experiences, or that’s what my inner self kept telling me.

Sarah 15:45

Sujani 15:47
Yeah. Okay, so I guess you know, you, you do that you’re in Angola. And then what happens next?

Sarah 16:53
Then I realized, okay, I’m finally ready, I want to do the three extra years of training to be an infectious disease specialist.

Sujani 17:01

Sarah 17:02
So while I was in Angola, I applied to positions because for physician jobs, or especially for fellowship programs, you apply one to two years ahead of time, often for these jobs. So it takes a lot of planning. So I actually returned back to the United States about I think, six or eight months before I needed to start fellowship. And I did some more locum tenens work. So more of those substitute doctoring sort of positions. And it was such a great experience, because one of those experiences was with the Indian Health Service, I was able to provide direct clinical care as a full scope, general pediatrician, so taking care of, you know, going to deliveries when babies were born, taking care of kids who were sick enough to be in the hospital, and then seeing sick kids in the outpatient clinics as well. And in the emergency department, in the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. So one of my passions has always been underserved rural populations. And so even though that wasn’t the career, I ended up in full time, I was able to spend several months living in that community and doing that work. And it really did feel very satisfying, almost a full circle moment. Like this is what I started out in my medical journey thinking that I was going to do for my career. Even though it was only for a few months. It was a really, really great experience. I’m very glad that I did it. I’m nice. And then I ended up moving to New Orleans and did my pediatric infectious disease fellowship training after that.

Sujani 18:27
Okay. I think right after that you are in the position that you currently are today. Is that right?

Sarah 18:33
Correct. I went into full time public health after my three years of infectious disease training. I’ve done full time public health since and I’ve worked at the state national and international levels and worked with different infectious disease processes during that time, including malaria, and now tuberculosis.

Sujani 18:51
And then you’re also a system professor, right?

Sarah 18:55
Yes. So one of the hard things in public health, especially if you do 10 years of clinical training, like I did, is that most public health jobs are full time non clinical. So sometimes that’s a good thing for people who, you know, maybe you do all that training and realize that clinical medicine is not for you. And I thought maybe initially that I was one of those people, but then I realized I really missed it. So I was able to go back and get an adjunct appointment to do two weeks of inpatient infectious disease clinical work each year at the hospital where I trained as an pediatrician. So it’s a great opportunity to go back to work with colleagues that I met over 10 years ago now and get to work with them each year as well.

Sujani 19:38
That was going to be my question is whether you miss clinical work, but I guess you’re satisfying that through this role.

Sarah 19:45
Correct? Yeah, it’s only two weeks a year. It would be nice if I could do something maybe more regular and more general but in my current job, I’m now also working with tuberculosis control, so I’m able to see tuberculosis patients in clinic it is a very specific disease process. So I’m not getting to do the more general stuff that I like. So that’s the space that I think the adjunct appointment fills for me is getting to do some more in general clinical care.

Sujani 20:11
Just based on your experience, and maybe peers that you’ve worked with, are most public health roles where you do need a medical training? Does it kind of pull you away from clinical practice? Or have you been able to see peers being able to continue doing a bit more clinical practice than two weeks a year?

Sarah 20:33
There’s often an option for people to try to do half of a day of clinic per week in many positions. But it depends on the employer, it can depend on the specific supervisor, it’s not a guarantee. But a lot of the value that a clinician brings to a public health role is their clinical training and their experience. So being able to maintain those skills by having an ongoing clinical experience, whether it’s like me doing two weeks a year, or someone who’s able to do half day a week, something is an ongoing experience really does add to your ability to do a good job in public health.

Sujani 21:11
Yeah. You know, if there’s someone who’s interested and knows, almost immediately that they’re wanting to, I guess, start a career in public health out of medical school, do you think that’s still possible with very little years of experience?

Sarah 21:26
Absolutely. It’s maybe a bit more challenging to do the clinical side of things. If you start right away. I did not do any of my career trajectory by intention or purpose, it was almost all accidental. But I think the fact that I was able to establish myself as a clinician before going into full time, public health made me more confident to then back off and do it less than full time.

Sujani 21:52

Sarah 21:52
Without that experience, straight out of training, it can be a little bit harder, but it’s not impossible by any means.

Sujani 21:59
So Sarah, you know, it was just like, listen to this amazing journey that you’ve taken over I think you said, was it 10 years so far? Just reflecting back on it, do you wish you had done anything differently? Or, you know, what, what are some reflections and thoughts that come to you, when you think back to this, like 10 year journey that you’ve taken?

Sarah 22:22
During the process, I thought it was frustrating, and I was probably doing everything wrong. I didn’t know if anything was going to work out the way I hoped. But now sitting from where I am, the main thing that I think I could have benefited from was asking more questions. I think I was so unsure of myself and in this is sort of, it’s sort of sad to say, but I was so afraid of bothering people, I think. And now I realized, you know, you’re not bothering people, if you’re a student, your professors are there to teach you. They’re there to answer your questions. That’s exactly what their job is. And people who are in these sorts of careers are often very interested in talking to people, I’ve now become more comfortable with the idea of doing things like informational interviews, where even if I’m not specifically applying for a job, if someone has a job, that seems interesting to me, you can email you can ask them to set up a zoom or a chat and just talk to them about how they were able to do the career that they are doing. And so just that idea of of asking more questions, getting more advice, I think that it may not have changed a single decision that I made, but it would have made me more confident in those decisions, and it would have taken a lot of that emotional turmoil out of the experience for me.

Sujani 23:38
Absolutely. I think the biggest thing I think, even when I reflect back is kind of, you know, being so unsure that you don’t know what questions to ask people, or how. And so these informational interviews, if a job or a role or some sort of opportunity that an individual is holding, seems interesting to you. Just having a conversation with them will just give a little bit more clarity into steps that you want to take. And I think that’s the- that’s the key here is that you don’t need to know what questions to ask where you don’t even need to have clarity in terms of where you want to go. But just having those conversations will bring additional clarity.

Sarah 24:19
Exactly. And this is where the bit of Coach Training I’ve had really comes in, I can recognize the perfectionism and the thoughts that led me to act that way. And I think this is a very common trait that those of us in the medical field have. And the reason is it. I mean, it benefits us in some ways, if we are very attention to detail if we’re used to being the best if we’re used to always making good grades if we’re used to working very hard. That’s what makes us successful. And we get the positive reinforcement of you know, getting accepted to medical school, succeeding a residency, but then when it comes to things like making life decisions, sometimes we get a little paralyzed. We think we’re supposed to know all the answers. We’re supposed to be able to figure this out on our own, but that’s not true at all. And so just it’s absolutely okay to ask questions, ask for help ask for advice.

Sujani 25:07
Exactly. And, you know, just thinking about some of the other challenges that you may have faced throughout this journey of yours, does anything else come to mind other than kind of just not feeling competent to reach out to individuals?

Sarah 25:22
I think one of the reasons that I emphasize core values in the website, like you told me you read it back to me, is because so much of my decision making was also based around what I thought I should be doing, rather than what was actually most important to me in life. And so I think that’s such a crucial thing to really understand and accept what is most important to you. And it took me many years to realize what’s most important to me are my close relationships and connections in life. And that’s totally okay. I thought I was supposed to prioritize service to other people above everything else. And that just led me to burnout and not enjoying things, even when things were going well. So fully recognizing what’s most important to you in life, what you cherish the most, what you want to spend your most time doing, and then building a career that fits in with those core values. That’s one of the biggest things that I also think about looking back.

Sujani 26:22
Yeah. And I think that question, sounds so simple, like, what is it that you enjoy? What is it that’s so important to you? But then it’s, I find it such a difficult task, right? Like, you need to sit down and you need to really think things through you need to, I think another way of like, figuring that out is speaking to other people about it, it takes time. And it’s not something that at least I don’t find that you could kind of uncover for yourself over just one brainstorming session, for example.

Sarah 26:53
Oh, exactly. I have an entire year journal that I’ve worked through to figure out what my current core values are. And I’m still not sure that they’re

Sujani 27:02

Sarah 27:02
I don’t think that they’re absolute, you know, for anybody. But like I said, for many years in my life, I thought service was my top core value. And then I realized, wait a minute, I think that maybe it’s something a little bit different for me, I realized.

Sujani 27:17
It’s almost like you uncover a different layer through the different life experiences you have. And absolutely values kind of get reprioritize or they just take up more space in your life. And that’s okay, that it changes.

Sarah 27:30
Absolutely. That’s a normal part of human experience is that we grow, we change, we develop, we react or learn from our circumstances. So

Sujani 27:41

Sarah 27:41

Sujani 27:42
I guess this is a great segue to talk a bit about the work that you’ve been doing guiding other people who have been in a similar position to you, as medical trainees, perhaps include interested in global health and public health is the work that you’re doing under what do you call it? Do you call it like a brand? Or do you call it your coaching service?

Sarah 28:06
Yeah, any of those works. Sure. Yes.

Sujani 28:11
Perfect. I opened up the website. And I read kind of the first sentence on there. And I had a smile on my face. Because if you- if you take PH SPOT website, I think we have similar words on there. And that always makes me smile, because it’s nice to see people on kind of similar missions, right? So your says your dream career and global health can be sustainable and impactful. And then how you Dr. Sarah Labuda is there to help. So tell us about how you got into supporting other students, other medical graduates in terms of just helping them throughout their careers and figuring out what it is that they like?

Sarah 28:51
For me and probably like many people right now, COVID lockdowns were a bit of a isolating, and maybe I might say emotionally traumatizing time. But I turned heavily into a life coaching group that I found online through a colleague of mine, that’s for physicians. And so I did a lot of the inner work, you know, I was able to engage with a community of other physicians and do a lot of work around my thoughts that were not serving me at the time. And I did a lot of journaling. I always tell people this I moved into my house in Angola the day that the borders closed, and the country shut down for COVID. So I was isolated in my living room teleworking by myself for a year and a half there pretty much. So it was a really challenging time in my life. But it was a great time for, I guess, writing out expressing all of these ideas that I had that I hadn’t ever said out loud, much less written down or acted on. And at the same time, I was having opportunity used to virtually meet with medical students, a lot of my colleagues were referring me medical students that they were working with who were interested in global health. And they were like, Oh, we know, Sarah, she does this, go talk to her. So I have just the combination of having the opportunity to talk to a lot of students in a similar career planning situation that I had gone through. And it was in a time where I couldn’t leave my house anyway. So I had a lot of time to think about and work on how I could best serve this group, because it was something that really brought me joy whenever I was able to connect with these people, because one of the sort of jokes that goes around in the coaching communities that we’re offering and trying to coach us from 10 years ago, and so it’s almost exactly in my case, that’s the situation I think, if I had had someone like me, to help me through that process, oh, my gosh, it would have been so much less stressful. And so that was sort of my motivation for getting started. And what I hope to achieve with all this is just to help medical students and trainees who are interested who have a passion, or even a calling for this career in global health, and don’t quite know how to put it all together.

Sujani 31:10
And how far along through the training are these individuals when they come to you?

Sarah 31:17
I have a range of different stages of training that I’ve talked with, I talked to residents, I talked to medical students, I’ve talked to undergraduate pre medical students, so anyone at all along their career trajectory, who-

Sujani 31:30

Sarah 31:31

  • is trying to figure out what’s the best way to build their skills while they’re a student or a trainee?

Sujani 31:38
Oh, that’s awesome to hear undergraduate students, and also reaching out a lot of great pre planning on their part.

Sarah 31:43

Sujani 31:44
Yeah. And so what are some top tips I guess, that you have for anyone in that category of medical students or trainees interested in global health and public health? What are some things that you can add, aside from what you’ve already shared? Are there any other top tips that you’d like to kind of give individuals?

Sarah 31:45
Of course, I have sort of two categories. So I have like the technical skills, the things that will help you to focus on in school and you know what to really focus on, like you said, if you do have the chance to do more specialty or, or elective time in a certain field, what’s most useful. And then also then that like, maybe soft skills, or the life skills, what helps you to develop yourself to be someone who can sustain a career in global health.

Sujani 32:35
And what do you see the biggest challenges that these individuals are coming to you with? Because, you know, we heard kind of your journey, and you were talking about just having like a lack of confidence in terms of like the direction that you thought you wanted to go in? And is that kind of the similar state that a lot of these trainees are in as well?

Sarah 32:54
Maybe not to the degree that I was, but I think that is, that is somewhat, I think the biggest challenge that people seem to come to me with is either they don’t even know what career options there might be for the specialty they might be interested in. Or they just don’t know what they can do now as a student with like, maybe they have limited opportunities at their current training program or something like that, you know, like, what are the opportunities? What can I be doing now? And then also, is this even an option for me, I don’t know if this is something I can even do. Like, if I want to be a specialist, if I want to be a surgeon, if I want to be a radiologist, you know, things like that if global health is an option? And the answer to that question, spoiler alert is yes. Every specialty has something to offer and can definitely find a niche in global health work.

Sujani 33:50
Yeah, the phrase global health, I remember, there was a great blog post that was written by Dr. Lawrence Loh, and he’s a medical officer of health in Canada. And I linked this up for any of our listeners who are interested, but talks about choosing impact over location and the myth of the Global Health gamble. And I’m curious to hear what your advice is. And I’ve seen some of your Tiktok videos. And so I feel like I know what you’re going to say. But when it comes to, you know, do I have to travel around the world in order to gain this global health experience? And I’m sure that might be kind of one of those questions that you do get asked, just curious to hear what your thoughts are on that.

Sarah 34:33
I would say definitely not you don’t have to travel. There’s plenty to do with underserved populations for me here in the United States, or I’m sure also for you there in Canada or in other domestic settings. But I think the priority is working on sustainable projects that build capacity. So something that leaves the place behind better than you found it. One of the experiences that I didn’t talk about earlier that I did when I was first starting off as a pediatrician before I’d finished my master’s in public health is that I did several short term sort of mission style trips, doing just sort of pop up clinics, and we didn’t teach local physicians, we didn’t involve the local health system, I had no idea what sort of resources were available in the local health system. And so looking back, I can see, there might be some short term benefit for those people that we served. But more than anything, it made me feel like I was doing something good, but it didn’t really strengthen the health system, it didn’t leave much behind, to keep improving the health care for the people that we were trying to serve. So for me, that’s a very personal experience. And there are ways that short term experiences can build capacity and can do all of these things that absolutely, but that’s why I emphasize to students that I think, looking at the quality of the experience and how it builds capacity, how it like I said, it can be in teaching local doctors, it can be working side by side with them in the clinics, it can be providing some sort of educational opportunities. If there are donations, it includes setting up the equipment and and helping to maintain equipment if there is something that you’re offering to a local community. So there’s lots of things that you can do. And like I said, it also doesn’t have to involve travel. There’s lots of domestic work that can be done with refugee and immigrant populations that is so pertinent within the global health context. And underserved populations in general, all of it crosses over and all of it applies.

Sujani 36:42
That’s wonderful. And I can tell just by speaking with you were past 30-40 minutes that you have all of the tools that I wish I kind of like had in a mentor when I was kind of also figuring my career out. And obviously your work is very much specific to those in kind of like medical training. And so if people are interested to kind of learn more about you, or the work that you’re doing, and maybe even reach out to you, what’s kind of the best way to do that, Sarah?

Sarah 37:15
I am on several social media platforms. So I am on Instagram @global_health_MD and Tiktok. Also @global_health_MD, and I’m on Twitter, it’s a slightly different one because it was too many characters. It’s globalhealth_MD. And then I also have an email list, the easiest way is just to click the link in the Instagram bio, or I’ll also have a LinkedIn page, Global Health MD as well. So any of those locations, you can join my email list. And you can even get on my calendar to have a one on one session where we can talk about career strategy and what we might be able to do together. If anyone is interested in working further.

Sujani 38:00
I saw that, that’s wonderful. You can chat with Sarah, about your personal kind of situation as well. Just wonderful. Thank you so much, Sarah, for just sharing your journey with us as well as kind of this additional work that you do guiding the next generation of individuals and the old you I suppose if you want to title it that.

Sarah 38:21
Exactly. Oh, thank you so much. It’s been so wonderful to talk with you


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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