Joia Mukherjee a leader in global health delivery, will be the keynote speaker at the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine 2022 Class Day ceremony on the Quad on May 26. Mukherjee is a pediatrician and an internist as well as an infectious disease and public health specialist.
For 22 years she has served as the chief medical officer of Partners In Health, an international medical organization that supports the delivery of comprehensive health care in a dozen countries. She is internationally known to students, faculty, and colleagues as a clinician, teacher, and highly effective proponent for human rights.
Mukherjee, an associate professor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and in the Division of Global Health Equity in the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Mukherjee said she was honored to be invited to give this year’s Class Day address.
“This generation of students inspires me to have hope in the future,” said Mukherjee. “More than 30 years ago, when I was medical student myself, very few people were interested in health around the world. I see in this generation a deep interest in social medicine and global health.”
“I believe many young people believe that doctors should focus not only on the biological causes of disease but the context in which people get sick,” Mukherjee said. “I am excited to see this generation redefine what it means to be a doctor in a practice that will address the impact of local and global social forces on human beings.”
Keeping it local
Mukherjee has taught and mentored many HMS students in the nearly 25 years she has been at HMS. She has educated students about the role of global health work in a physician’s career, as a guest lecturer in such MD curriculum courses as Medicine, Human Rights, and the Physician; Introduction to Global Medicine: Bioscience, Technologies, Disparities, Strategies; and Essentials of the Profession II. She was a tutor for many years in Introduction to Social Medicine.
She is director of the Master of Medical Sciences in Global Health Delivery program, which welcomes HMS MD students seeking global health experience. HMS MD-MMSc students have performed mentored global health research around the world, including in Haiti, India, and the Navajo Nation.
As an global health adviser to HMS students, Mukherjee has mentored scholarly projects in infectious disease and global health delivery. Mukherjee’s students have received awards at Soma Weiss Student Research Day at HMS, as well as fellowships through the Doris Duke Charitable Trust and the Fulbright program. Mukherjee served on the HMS faculty committee on international programs, which reviewed HMS students’ global health project proposals.
Taking it global
Through her work with PIH, Mukherjee has designed and implemented programs in Haiti, Peru, Mexico, Russia, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Navajo Nation that deliver comprehensive health care and address social determinants of health, such as poverty, malnutrition, and lack of clean water.
But Mukherjee extends her work beyond seeing patients firsthand. By educating and training health care professionals across the world, including in resource-limited nations, she aims to remake structural and social frameworks so that high quality health care can be successfully delivered to individuals living in poverty.
The work of training physicians, nurses, and community health care workers, she said, helps amplify outreach to those in need of modern medicine around the world and can advance global health equity.
Always, Mukherjee said, the emphasis in her teaching is on delivery of care with dignity and compassion, a touchstone of the “accompaniment model” forged by PIH co-founder and global health pioneer Paul Farmer, who died in February.
Mukherjee is also a visiting faculty member at the University of Global Health Equity in Kigali, Rwanda.
In 2021, the second edition of Mukherjee’s textbook, An Introduction to Global Health Delivery: Practice, Equity, Human Rights, was published by Oxford University Press. The widely used text (first edition in 2017) describes the 21st-century global health movement, explains the resources and systems required to provide high quality health care, and discusses advocating that everyone has a right to care, regardless of resources.
Fighting infectious diseases
During the coronavirus pandemic, Mukherjee led PIH’s efforts to support the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in its COVID-19 response. She has also helped craft the public health response to the outbreak in cities and states across the U.S. Because Mukherjee has led PIH’s efforts for two decades, she draws on the experience of building integrated health systems, researching results, and training health care workers to respond to epidemics from HIV to tuberculosis to Ebola.
Mukherjee serves on the board of directors of Village Health Works in Burundi, Project Muso in Mali, and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Utilizing a human rights approach, she advises grassroots organizations throughout the world on how to deliver health care to underresourced communities. She has consulted for the World Health Organization and other international agencies on health system strengthening, human resources for health, treatment for HIV, hepatitis C, drug-resistant tuberculosis, and COVID-19.
Mukherjee received her MD from the University of Minnesota Medical School. She trained in infectious disease, internal medicine, and pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital. She has an MPH from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Harvard University Commencement and the HMS/HSDM Class Day ceremonies will be held in person on May 26. Get more details on graduation events here. The page will be updated regularly with graduation-related news and profiles of graduating students.