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Global Health Careers: How Can I Make a Difference?

Industry Advice Political Science & Security Public Health & Public Policy

A career in global health presents the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds and help those in need around the world. Certain global health professionals work with national leaders to shape healthcare within developing nations, while others collaborate with government agencies, NGOs, or relief organizations to promote medical awareness worldwide.

“It’s a particularly exciting time to enter the field and work with people who are passionate about making the world a better place,” says Holly Dygert, a lecturer in Northeastern’s Master of Science in Global Studies and International Relations program. “There are numerous problems that need to be addressed, and there are many different organizations involved that are successfully shaping global health.”

A career in global health positions you to identify and solve complex medical issues around the world. Here’s a closer look at what global health workers do.

What Does a Global Health Worker Do?

Global health professionals work to ensure the safety of vulnerable populations and improve the health of communities worldwide through education, policy making, and research. Whether you evaluate data, shape public policy, or work directly with communities to improve their wellbeing, there are ample opportunities to make a difference.

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“There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction in terms of feeling like you’re doing something meaningful,” Dygert says. “It’s exciting to get to know people from different contexts and backgrounds, and to learn from their experiences.”

There are many different areas within global health, including:

  • Cancer
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Mental Health
  • Epidemic Disease
  • Diagnostics
  • Advocacy and Policy
  • Malaria
  • Nutrition
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Vaccines
  • Hygiene

Global health professionals may also:

  • Diagnose, monitor, and evaluate a community’s healthcare to identify potential problems
  • Inform and educate underserved and at-risk individuals about local health issues
  • Develop policies, procedures, and plans that support individual and community wellbeing
  • Create an efficient healthcare system within vulnerable communities in developing nations
  • Research and evaluate potential solutions to global health issues

What Kind of Education Do I Need?

While a graduate education is not necessary for all roles, a Master of Science in Global Studies and International Relations can position you to succeed in the industry by giving you the expertise needed to work with people from different backgrounds, understand important global concepts, and gain cross-cultural knowledge. The degree also provides the opportunity to study international health-related issues, such as global healthcare delivery and health services.

“A master’s degree is perfect for people who want to work in global health,” Dygert says. “You gain more specialized knowledge about the field, what the global trends are, and how we understand those problems. You’ll be a valuable asset to different organizations, such as the World Health Organization or Partners in Health.”

By studying the impact of globalization and global literacy, a graduate degree can also position you to attain the cultural competencies needed to interact with vulnerable populations and be an advocate for diverse groups. In addition, you can stand out in a number of global professional settings, such as health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory medical centers, nonprofit organizations, community-based agencies, and private foundations.

What Kind of Global Health Careers Are Available?

There are many careers you can pursue within global health, from epidemiologist to consultant. Below are five careers that may interest you:

1) Epidemiologist

Median Pay: $70,820
Job Growth: 9 percent

Epidemiologists research, monitor, and analyze infectious disease, investigating their causes and patterns. They aim to reduce the risk of poor health outcomes through research, community education, and health policy. Epidemiologists work in private organizations, nonprofits, governmental health departments, hospitals, colleges, and universities. Additional responsibilities may also include:

  • Planning and directing research studies
  • Collecting and examining data through observations, samples, interviews, and surveys to find causes of disease or other health issues
  • Communicating findings to health practitioners, policymakers, and the public
  • Managing global health programs by evaluating statistical data and research findings
  • Supervising professional and technical staff

2) Policy Analyst

Median Pay: $114,290
Job Growth: 2 percent

Policy analysts aim to improve individual healthcare and population health by studying international health programs, and how certain policies affect communities at large. They act as liaisons between their organizations and governments. Analysts also monitor changes in today’s global healthcare industry. Additional duties include:

  • Studying complex healthcare issues and recommending solutions
  • Identifying key global health trends, patterns, and strategies
  • Evaluating outcomes related to proposed international health regulations, legislation, or resources
  • Gathering and examining data from various sources, such as interviews and surveys
  • Researching, preparing, and assessing reports for key leaders

3) Program Manager

Median Pay: $96,540
Job Growth: 20 percent

Program managers guide an organization’s short- and long-term strategy. They play a critical role in developing national standards and guidelines for global health programs related to NGOs, nonprofits, and governments. In addition, managers assess guidelines for training programs to improve the quality and scope of healthcare services around the world. They provide strategic direction to projects and teams in order to ensure the quality of key health deliverables. Responsibilities can include:

  • Coordinating and communicating with internal and external stakeholders
  • Developing program plans and informing leadership of updates
  • Supporting project budgets and managing financial goals
  • Developing toolkits and assessments for clinical training
  • Publishing findings through reports, presentations, and additional deliverables
  • Managing health workers in the field
  • Improving and expanding upon global health programs

4) Global Health Educator

Median Pay: $60,669
Job Growth: 18 percent

Global health educators teach individuals, families, and communities about different habits that promote and maintain wellbeing. They create strategies to improve the health of individuals and identify a community’s needs in order to best implement specific programs. Global health educators also collect and analyze data about specific populations to improve their health outcomes. Educators may work for nonprofits, businesses, the government, hospitals, or healthcare facilities. Responsibilities may also comprise of:

  • Determining the health needs of individuals and communities within the global populations they serve, and teaching them how to manage existing health problems
  • Creating materials, hosting events, and developing programs to teach populations about relevant health issues
  • Assessing the effectiveness of educational programs and materials
  • Helping people within vulnerable populations find medical services, health professionals, and additional information
  • Training other community health workers or local health professionals
  • Advocating for better healthcare policies, resources, and care that promote community health

5) Consultant

Median Pay: $81,330
Job Growth: 12 percent

Consultants examine an organization’s efficiency and make suggestions for improvement. They work to increase company profits and productivity. Consultants within global health work for pharmaceutical companies, healthcare organizations, nonprofits, businesses, the government, and consulting firms. Their duties also involve:

  • Reviewing international laws and regulations to understand current global health reform issues and priorities
  • Working with upper management to ensure that organizational changes are being implemented effectively, such as enhancing global health systems and programs
  • Planning the introduction of new treatments and technologies for certain health conditions, such as diabetes or cancer
  • Help organizations shape health policy and strategy goals
  • Building and maintaining partnerships across the global health sector

What Are Some Established Organizations to Work for?

Within the industry, there are numerous organizations that employ global health professionals, including NGOs, private foundations, nonprofits, and UN-based institutions. Below are several well-known organizations within global health:

Partners in Health (PIH)

Partners in Health is a nonprofit organization that provides healthcare to vulnerable populations in the poorest of developing nations, from routine medical exams to cancer treatment. Based in Boston, they work closely with Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital. In addition to strengthening public health systems in developing countries, PIH conducts extensive academic research and provides a community-based model to help those in need. PIH works in nine countries, including Rwanda, Russia, and Peru.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC’s Center for Global Health delivers various educational programs to improve health worldwide. They strive to eradicate disease, evaluate new approaches to achieve global health outcomes, and prevent causes of mortality, morbidity, and disability. The CDC also coordinates and manages resources to address global challenges, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, refugee health, and immunization.

World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization works in more than 150 countries around the world, directing and coordinating global health efforts within the United Nations. They combat disease, from infectious ones like influenza to chronic conditions like cancer. The WHO also supports maternal health and provides a high quality of life for those in need by ensuring clean air, healthy food, safe water, and access to medicines and vaccines.  They work with governments and other partners to protect the wellbeing of individuals and support health policies and strategies worldwide.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

USAID works to solve global challenges in developing and industrialized nations, from poverty, hunger, and disease to environmental degradation and climate change. The organization improves lives around the world by enhancing global stability and driving economic growth in emerging markets. They also improve developing countries’ quality of life, whether they provide HIV/AIDS medication to the sick or teach farmers how to better grow crops. USAID aims to end poverty and promote resiliency alongside democratic societies while promoting U.S. security and prosperity.


PATH focuses on global health innovation to improve lives around the world, particularly among women and children. The organization accelerates innovation across five platforms, including vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations. Through its numerous partners, such as Microsoft and Merck, PATH aims to end the cycle of poor health and malnourishment, especially in Africa and Asia. The organization enables global health by supporting the needs of developing countries, such as improving vaccination devices and creating new tools to prevent cervical cancer.

Working in global health can be an ideal career that promotes medical awareness on a global scale. Whether you’re interested in management, research, advocacy, or strategy, there are ample opportunities to make a difference.

“A career in global health embraces community engagement,” Dygert says, “and strives to make a positive change in the world.”

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