Nicole is a second-year Health Policy and Administration MPH student with a Global Health Concentration. A recipient of the Douglas Passaro Global Horizons Scholarship, Nicole traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti during the summer of 2016 to complete her university field practicum. Nicole’s main task, along with the help of a colleague from the University of Illinois and Chicago’s Liautaud Graduate School of Business, was to find a sustainable business scale-up model for a neighborhood-based disaster risk reduction (DRR) program that had begun its work in Haiti in 2012 – a collaboration of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) School of Public Health, College of Business Administration, College of Medicine, and Center for Global Health.
Nicole was able to learn how to create a project plan and lead the conduction of an in-country partner assessment, the creation of formal business proposals, and the execution of multiple business presentations. She was also able to learn how to use differences in both culture and expertise in advantageous, efficient, and effective ways; learn the basics of the Haitian Creole language; and observe the conduction of a one-week community disaster risk reduction (DRR) training lead by GTRRID (Gwoup kap Travay pou Rediksyon Risk ak Dezas), UIC’s local, in-country disaster risk reduction training partners.
What about the Global Health Concentration at UIC made its greatest impact on you?
The Global Public Health Challenges course (IPHS 409) was a great course that provided me a solid foundation in both past and present global health issues while also challenging many of my preconceived notions about global public health and what it really means to be culturally competent and meaningfully involved in global health work.
In what ways did you prepare for your global practicum?
I did a lot of reading on Haiti in an attempt to gain proper insight into and context of Haiti’s complex (and honestly quite tragic) history and the factors responsible for where the country is and how it is functioning today. Mountains Beyond Mountains, The Uses of Haiti, and Farewell, Fred Voodoo are some great ones. I would also recommend to anyone either thinking about or preparing for global health work to read any article(s) by Paul Farmer in relation to poverty and global health, such as “Social Scientists and The New Tuberculosis” – he does a great job of relaying the important differences between the effects of poverty (as well as other large scale structural factors) and those of culture (and therefore cultural competence) and the trouble that results from mistaking the effects of one for those of the other.
In addition to my background reading, I also took some time to learn the basics of French, one of two main languages spoken in Haiti and one of the languages by which Haitian Creole (the other main language spoken in Haiti) was heavily influenced. I also had the good fortune of being able to travel to Haiti on multiple occasions with my preceptor and architect behind the project, Dr. Janet Lin, to get my “feet wet” in certain aspects of the project and to meet those involved.
How did this experience prepare you for work in public health?
This experience allowed me to do just that – experience. It allowed me to really envelop myself in the culture and the context in which policy and business happen in-country and my colleague and I’s efforts were made more fruitful because of it. You cannot truly begin to understand a nation, nor develop sustainable programs that seek to improve the status quo, until you’ve experienced first-hand what that status quo is. An understanding of this will make me a more adept and effective health policy analyst.
In what ways did this experience enhance or change your career goals?
While I have numerous professional goals and interests that I would like to pursue within my lifetime, the goal which I am most passionate about and the one which I am most dedicated to both pursue and accomplish is that of writing global public health policies that will get better health care access, treatment, and education to resource-poor nations. My experience in Haiti has, without question, influenced this goal for the better by confirming my passion for global health work, enhancing my leadership capabilities, and by providing me with an increased sense of cross-cultural understanding and humility that I could not have acquired back home.
What advice would you give to current global health students?
If you are on the fence about doing your field practicum abroad – do it! An experience in global health will equip you with skills that are simply not possible to acquire domestically. And be flexible! Tis the nature of global health work for plans to change and change often – be able to roll with the punches. Flexibility is a great skill to have and something good will always come out of it!