Learning to Improve Global Health at the GHIC Conference

In 2014, I will become the first student to graduate from Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Science in Global Health. It has been such a tremendous honor to be a part of an academic institution that invests in the intellectual curiosity of its students and permits them to pursue independent degrees in emerging academic disciplines. Through the incredible opportunities afforded by a Northeastern education, I have traveled to 5 continents to study, work, conduct research, and engage in service learning. These experiential learning opportunities have confirmed and furthered my passion for global health and have allowed me to network all over the globe.

While extensive travel is often necessary in order to gain a meaningful perspective on the emerging and complex topics in global health, this April I was fortunate to attend the Global Health & Innovation Conference at Yale University in nearby New Haven, Connecticut. The Global Health & Innovation Conference (GHIC) is the largest conference worldwide in Global Health and is the ideal platform to meet over 2,200 professionals, researchers, and students who are immersed in the field. From world-renowned experts on maternal health to undergraduates experimenting with mobile phone technology, I was inspired and amazed by each person I met. It was truly riveting to be surrounded by a mass of people all united by the goal of improving the health of others.

The common objectives shared by the professionals and students that gathered at Yale that weekend are important to recognize; but, so too, are the diverging views on contested issues that were brought to the surface. I sat as a captivated audience member for many presentations but, when the conference finished for the day, I couldn’t help but reflect and critically analyze the conflicting ideas presented. While one presenter urged the audience to focus on mobile phone technology as the best tool for improving health care delivery in resource-scarce villages, another reminded us that access to clean water remains the most significant barrier to health in many corners of the world; the audience was urged by one panel to pay attention to America’s broken food system while reminded by another that malnutrition still plagues 1 billion people every day; some urged “top down” approaches while others reminded us the importance of listening to the needs of local people.

This dialogue regarding which issues are most worthy of our attention and the discourse over the best ways to resolve them are part of what makes working in this field so interesting. The opportunity to actively engage in these professional conversations is so critical to a young person such as myself because exposure to so many schools of thought ensures that I remain critical and analytical as I decide which theories fit into my own perspective. For me, the Global Health & Innovation Conference was an affirmation that there are thousands of people rallying around improving health worldwide, a reminder that the problems are diverse and the solutions not always clear, and a confirmation that global health is exactly where I belong.

-Erin Cooney, Global Health