3 surprise tips on careers in global health

Devex hosted a career webinar with Alanna Shaikh, a global health expert, well known blogger and career advice maven, to discuss how to break into a global health career and what its actually like to work in it.

Global health is undoubtedly a big component of international development work. Even programs that are not focused solely on health interventions have to take into account the impact of health on all other development indicators.

And the need for global health professionals is as strong as ever. Master’s in public health programs are popping up all over the map (see “Top global health schools: A primer”). Health practitioners from nurses to social workers are looking at how they can leverage their expertise to help address challenges like malnutrition, maternal and child health, health care delivery, and more.

But how do you break into this popular career path and what is it actually like to work in global health? Devex had the pleasure to host global health expert and well known blogger and career advice maven Alanna Shaikh recently in our career webinar series to talk about this rewarding — and challenging — profession.

Here are a three take-aways from what she shared:

1. Global health jobs are office jobs

Global health professionals are rarely the ones “on the front lines doing something exciting.” Global health is about capacity building and training. You won’t be delivering vaccines but rather designing the logistical system to make sure vaccines end up where they are needed. A typical global health worker spends their days at a desk writing program reports, dealing with donors, and occasionally conducting research.

“All the doing is done by people in the host country,” Shaikh said. If you are looking to actually deliver health care and work directly with patients and constituents, stay in your home country, she advised.

2. Global health employers are conservative

When applying to global health jobs, don’t be too creative in your resume or cover letter, Shaikh advised. She recommended using a standard, bulleted, reverse-chronological CV format and to stay away from functional resumes, colors or quotes.

“Nobody wants you to be interesting in your formatting” she warned. Global health employers are looking for people “who can do a donor report in the correct format.” Your “interesting” CV will only make them worry that you will not be able to conform with the often rigid reporting and documentation requirements of a global health career.

3. Global health has a ‘culture of learning’

As a subfield of international development, global health has a long history of doing “genuine, sincere evaluation” of its work, Shaikh said. This “culture of learning” across this sector means that people use evidence in designing interventions and are always learning from their mistakes. The cross-disciplinary nature of global health work means they “get to steal all the good ideas from other fields.” For example, using behavior change communications strategies from the advertising industry or adopting quality improvement techniques from manufacturing. Global health professionals are “always looking at other fields to see what can be transferred.”

For more of Shaikh’s insights on global health careers — including unexpected facts on your global health job hunt, why living abroad can be both great and “awful” and why global health professionals are “more fun” — Devex members with a career account can watch the full webinar. (And check out other Devex webinars.)

For more on careers in global health check out “Global health jobs: What you need to knowand “A new generation of global health leaders.”

Have any tips for our members on getting that first job in the field? Please leave them as comments below. Tweet me your career questions at @DevexCareers — your question may just be the focus of an upcoming Career Matters blog post. You can also subscribe to my video blog on YouTube.

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About the author

  • Warren kate 1

    Kate Warren

    Kate Warren is Executive Vice President and resident talent and careers guru at Devex. With 15 years of global development recruitment experience advising international NGOs, consulting firms, and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.