When third-year student Stella Safo first arrived at HMS, she had a specific career goal in mind. She wanted to work on HIV/AIDS in Ghana. “I wanted to learn how I, as an outsider and foreigner, could go back to a place I considered my home and work with the appropriate nongovernment organizations and governmental bodies to set up programs that are sustainable.”
It did not take her long to find an educational path that could help her reach that goal. In her second semester, she took a course taught by Jim Yong Kim, the former head of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at HMS, and Paul Farmer, the department’s current head. The course addressed many of the global health issues that concerned Safo. It also left her with a tantalizing educational prospect: the professors were interested in starting a global health delivery program that would teach business and management techniques within a public health context. The program, meant to improve implementation in the global health field, was expected to launch in 2009.
Safo pursued the opportunity and, last July, joined 25 other students from more than 15 countries for the inaugural year of the Harvard Global Health Effectiveness Program. The three-week course gave students intensive instruction in epidemiology, organizational behavior and management, and case study analysis in healthcare delivery.
“In my Medical School class, there is such a thirst, people really want these types of skills,” Safo said, adding that she has watched graduates go on to business school to better prepare themselves for a career in the global health field.
Joseph Rhatigan, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who served on the faculty for the summer program, said that it was, in part, designed to train effective organizational leaders and managers within a public health context. “The program’s goal is to teach some of the more pragmatic implementation skills in global health, as opposed to policy or other abstract concepts. It’s more about design, strategy, and implementation than about research.”
The landmark program grew out of a course on global health delivery taught at HSPH by Rhatigan and fellow HMS professors Kim, Farmer and Rebecca Weintraub. In 2008, the group was approached by James Ware, former dean for academic affairs at HSPH. He, too, had noted the need for operational expertise in the global health field, and he thought the time was right to develop the course’s content into a stand-alone program that would allow senior players in the field to acquire needed skills in a concentrated way. “The strategy was to move toward a summer program similar to Clinical Effectiveness, which allows more senior persons to come for seven weeks in the summer,” said Ware. Some also see the program as a possible precursor to a Master of Science in Global Health.
Early on, the plan won the support of HMS leadership, including Dean Jeffrey Flier and professors David Golan and Thomas Michel. It was organized by the Global Health Delivery Project, which is itself a consortium of Harvard-affiliated entities—the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Global Health Equity, The François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at HSPH, the HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, and Partners in Health. All parties collaborated in developing the current program, the first to be sponsored and shepherded jointly by HMS and HSPH.
In its first year, the program saw a huge response from applicants. In addition to medical students, it attracted public health professionals from around the world, including three physicians from Partners In Health sites in Haiti, Rwanda and Lesotho, who were able to attend on scholarships through the Smith Scholars program. This diversity was invaluable, since classmates shared their own first-hand experiences while learning from case studies of other professionals in the field.
Safo said the experience exceeded her high expectations. “This is why you come to Harvard. You can learn the basics of medicine from any accredited institution. You come to Harvard for these cutting edge, no-one’s-ever-done-it-before opportunities.”