TP SPOTLIGHT:

 

JORDAN BURNS,
AFRICA REGIONAL MALARIA ADVISOR

"...'soft' skills are really some of the most important when it comes to team management, conflict management, and any human resource gaps that arise in a collaborative environment like USAID."

How did you enter the field of global health?

Jordan: I began my undergraduate studies at the University of Louisville as a biology major/pre-med student with a limited understanding of the career possibilities in the field of global health. During my course of study, I chose to take several courses, including Medical Anthropology and Medical Geography, that looked at health and healthcare issues through a more socio-cultural lens. Studying abroad was another objective of mine, so I applied and received the David L. Boren scholarship and had the chance to study and conduct research in Brazil for a year, where I learned more about aspects of global health like epidemiology, social disparity issues, and health and human rights.

This experience and my coursework influenced me to apply to a variety of Master of Public Health programs, and I decided to pursue an MPH focused on Global Epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. A service requirement with a government agency was a component of the scholarship I received to study in Brazil, so upon graduation I found the Global Health Fellows Program II (GHFP II) internship to support USAID’s work and continue my service in the field of global health, which helped me get my foot in the door at USAID. I later applied for a fellowship with the same organization, which is how I found myself in the next iteration of GHFP II, the Global Health Technical Professionals.

What does a typical day look like for you at USAID?

Jordan: My current title is Africa Regional Malaria Advisor, and I support the USAID Africa Bureau’s implementation of the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), a program launched in 2005 that supports public health and malaria-related programming in 24 Sub-Saharan African countries as well as a sub-regional Asian program in the Mekong. Because I collaborate with teams in the field in several African countries, my days typically start on very early teleconferences (to accommodate time differences between 5 and 8 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time) to discuss a wide range of issues from administrative to budgetary to technical issues (for example planning for a mosquito bed net campaign and the challenges and coordination involved). Much of the rest of my day is spent coordinating, reviewing deliverables, and pushing items forward through agency bureaucracy so important work on the ground can happen.

What was the most significant experience you faced early in your career?

Jordan: Before I entered public health, a general challenge I faced was lack of knowledge of the scope and the career opportunities in it just based on lack of exposure to the global health sector in rural Kentucky (where I’m from). But once I decided to pursue global health as a career and was pursuing my MPH at Emory, the biggest challenge was simply the job search and figuring out how to get my foot in the door. I gained a bit of professional experience at the CDC in Atlanta while a student, but as graduation loomed, I found myself searching for jobs at USAID and other agencies in Washington, D.C., which (while unfamiliar to me at the time) is rich with U.S.-based global health career opportunities. I ended up accepting a 3-month internship in D.C. and lived in someone’s basement while I got up and running. But that internship was extended into 6 and then 12 months, during which time I networked and learned more about more permanent opportunities in the field. The experience taught me that although it can be risky or scary to take on shorter term commitments at first, accepting those positions can sometimes be the best way to get your foot in the door.

In your opinions, what are the two most important skills to have in the field of global health?

Jordan: First, I’ve found that having a decent level of foreign language proficiency will give you a clear advantage over other job applicants, and is often either preferred or required in global health positions, especially when a certain amount of work is to be done in the field and with field teams. Also, being proficient in data interpretation methods and tools is essential when working at a donor agency like USAID. You need to be able to interpret program statistics, information, and results to advise others (often non-technical folks) about budgetary and operational planning decisions. And I’m going to cheat a little bit by adding a third skill, but what some call “soft” skills are really some of the most important when it comes to team management, conflict management, and any human resource gaps that arise in a collaborative environment like USAID.

How have you found mentors and/or opportunities to network as a global health professional?

Jordan: I’ve used the resources offered by the USAID hiring mechanisms that I’ve been involved with (GHFP II and GHTP), including opportunities for mentorship, brownbag lunches, and seminars. I’ve also sought out scientific conferences and technical global meetings with other donor organizations on the job, which is a great way to network. Overall though, I’ve found that even in a networking opportunity-rich environment like Washington D.C., you have to intentionally make the time to take advantage of those opportunities, or else they can easily pass you by.

Do you have any advice for current global or public health students?

Jordan: My main advice is something I touched on earlier, which is to be willing to take on shorter, less permanent internships and experiences to get more exposure early and get your foot in the door initially. You’ll likely meet people along the way who will help you open doors for more permanent opportunities. However, I recognize that there may be some constraints that may limit one’s ability to pursue more temporary opportunities. In such cases, I recommend making time and cultivating the courage to explore informational interviews or other informal ways to learn and connect with others in the public health space.

TP SPOTLIGHT:

 

QWAMEL HANKS,
NUTRITION ASSOCIATE ADVISOR 

 

"Know yourself, have a plan, and be able to articulate it. Know what you want professionally, at least in the next several years of your life, so that you can continuously and deliberately work towards goals." 

How did you enter the field of global health?

Qwamel: As an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, I was interested in the intersection of food and anti-hunger issues, as well as with program management. I began as a business major, but later switched to a focus on human nutrition and food sciences to gain a more technical understanding of the field, while sustaining the business portion of my education through a business minor. My new course direction helped me identify an interest in international nutrition and hunger issues, so I began to focus on gaining as much international experience as possible, including community service, a youth agriculture summit, and short research and volunteer experiences, because work abroad is often a prerequisite to participation in global health career fields.

Once I graduated, I spent the first five to six years of my career working in domestic nutrition in order to build my technical skillset, and then decided to pursue my Masters of Global Health Program Design, and Monitoring & Evaluation at George Washington University. During my studies, I chose to conduct my Graduate Practicum experience in Ghana, and while abroad, I applied to my current position as Nutrition Associate Advisor with GHTP.

What does a typical day look like for you at USAID?

Qwamel: Typically, my days are split evenly between administrative and logistics work and technical advisory. On the administrative side of things, there is a lot of scheduling, developing presentations, drafting talking points for stakeholder engagements, and attending meetings. The technical support I provide includes providing nutrition expertise to USAID teams on the ground in five west and central African countries, program strategy reviews, and activity design.

What was the most significant experience you faced early in your career?

Qwamel: I learned very early on that prior international work and/or research experience is very important if your goal is to work in global health, or in any field in which work spans across borders. Once I graduated and started applying to jobs, I found it challenging to acquire the international experience I needed to be competitive for many of the positions in international nutrition I applied for. Much of my prior international experience was short-term engagements, which were not as attractive as longer periods of work abroad. I did apply and was accepted as a Peace Corps volunteer, which I hoped among other things would serve as this necessary international experience, but my cohort was canceled before we departed for our placements. So while not completely prohibitive, a lack of extensive experience working abroad was a challenge early in my career. My advice to those seeking careers in global health is to take every opportunity that you can to work abroad as early and often as you can!

In your opinions, what are the two most important skills to have in the field of global health?

Qwamel: I have found both tactfulness and organizational skills to be absolutely essential in this field. Tact can get you far – being diplomatic, empathetic, communicative, and able to effectively work with people from a variety of backgrounds allows for successful collaboration. On the topic of organizational skills – USAID is a large, complex agency with many interacting systems and people. Having the ability to organize yourself, always remain punctual, and help your team members stay organized will help you go a long way.

How have you found mentors and/or opportunities to network as a global health professional?

Qwamel: GHTP provides mentorship and networking opportunities like brownbag lunches that help with the sometimes-tedious networking process. I have also sought out more natural mentorships that can form on the job. Additionally, I’ve taken advantage of employee resource groups (ERGs) that USAID has for different subsects of professionals who work at the Agency, and there are always happy hours and listservs for like-minded professionals across Washington, D.C. – you just have to go and find them and be willing to engage in your free time.

Do you have any advice for current global or public health students?

Qwamel: Know yourself, have a plan, and be able to articulate it. Know what you want professionally, at least in the next several years of your life, so that you can continuously and deliberately work towards goals. 

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