By: Tatum Burdo, Dalhousie Medical student
2021 Global Health Student Blog Writing Competition
Winner: Most Cohesive
Literature is saturated with descriptions of global health, defined and refined in academic language, accessible only to a select few. My days as a Masters (in Global Health!) student were consumed with examining and critiquing such words, written by individuals plenty more qualified than I. Several years later, I find myself—a third-year medical student—still looking for meaning and an application of this term. What does global health mean in my day-to-day life? How do I apply this in the hospital wards? How do I champion global health, from wherever I am?
My understanding of global health is constantly shifting. These two words—global and health— are so much greater than the sum of their parts. I struggle to weave my thoughts into the complex reality of an infinitely synergistic term. Discourse too often suggests a global health endeavour must include multiple countries or span international borders. But what if the term was expanded to include a local idea or initiative, viewed with a global lens?
This transition in my own thinking has provided meaning, especially when the confines of medical school amidst a global pandemic limit my airport-loving soul to the hospital rooms of Fredericton, NB. This, in convergence with the last decade’s global refugee crisis, has brought the world to my doorstep. I am challenged to tackle local health challenges from a new angle, a broader viewpoint.
I like to use engineering as a framework; engineers are, indeed, the master bridge-builders. They draw on a diversity of materials, be it wood, stone, iron, or concrete, to disperse tensile and compressive forces. With that, a load is shared. Previously disconnected pieces of land are united. Like a linking of arms, a relationship is forged.
I seek to be a bridge-builder, a connector of things. For the Syrian newcomer requesting medical care for the first time, in a city and language not yet her own. In a busy emergency room corridor, I can advocate for the use of trained interpreters. For the East African couple, seeking prayer and ceremony in a Western labour and delivery room built for speed and science, I can engage and appreciate diverse religious and cultural values. I can hold space for dignity, kindness, and patience in medicine. I can straddle the chasm between an archaic, static medical system and a vibrant newcomer patient population, as I advocate for change and improved health outcomes. These are the endeavours of global health.
I can bring divergent perspectives of health together with equity, accountability, partnership, and respect. I embrace these pillars and press on, building bridges. This is the very essence of global health.