All students at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA learn about international health policies and systems. But those who plan to pursue careers in global public health can customize their medical degrees by entering the Global Health Pathway (GHP).
Abraar Karan, who recently graduated from the GHP, was interested in global public health even before arriving at medical school. Born in India and raised in the U.S., he has traveled to his country of origin many times.
"I would see sick people on the streets who had no access to food, water or even basic healthcare," he recalls. "I remember one beggar with tumors all over his body. People were terrified of him. I had no idea what I was seeing, but now I know he had neurofibromatosis. It was sad to see the stigma around medical conditions for poor people there."
During his undergraduate studies at Yale, Karan traveled to the Dominican Republic as a medical translator and did clinical health work in Uganda, India, Nicaragua, Mexico and Honduras. Then he enrolled in medical school.
"The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has a strong clinical program, and it was important for me to gain those skills and knowledge," says Karan. "And the global health program at UCLA is phenomenal. It's growing quickly and the faculty is really dedicated."
Here, Karan discusses how the medical school curriculum differs for GHP students.
Global health selective
During the first year of medical school, GHP students enroll in this special class, which consists of lunchtime talks, evening roundtables, film screenings and a group project.
"You can also get involved with the Global Health Interest Group (GHIG)," says Karan, "which runs global health week and hosts other events on campus."
Short-term training program (STTP)
During the summer after their first year, GHP students travel abroad to complete a STTP in global health research, funded by the UCLA Center for World Health. Karan worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a health policy and leadership project in Mozambique.
Fourth-year GHP students complete a clinical elective overseas or receive some other type of field experience. Karan spent a month in Thailand at the Siriraj Hospital.
"This was my first post-clinical global public health experience," says Karan. "We worked in both the adult and pediatric infectious disease wards and did a rotation in Thai traditional medicine. It was really eye-opening to see how management of infectious diseases differs, particularly given a difference in access to medicines. They get HIV cases that are far more advanced than what we usually see here. They don't have the same antiretroviral medications and it can be harder to ensure patient follow-up for management of drug side effects. I really came to understand the strain infectious diseases put on healthcare systems in other countries."
Along with these requirements, students must remain active in global public health throughout medical school to receive a certificate of completion in the GHP program.
"Every quarter we submit a summary of our activities — research we're doing, lunch talks we're attending, papers we're writing. We also meet regularly with our mentors and advisers. In med school, there's so much to do, but being in the GHP kept me focused on my interest in global public health."
GHP students are also encouraged to pursue a master's or fellowship in public health. Karan, for example, will receive a master's in health policy and management from Harvard.
"Unless you're going to move somewhere for several years, you can only do so much as a clinician," Karan says. "Often your biggest contribution may be helping to build research capacity, working with healthcare systems on quality improvement projects, analyzing large data sets, doing economic analysis. Those are skills you don't get in med school, but you do with advanced training in public health."
Beyond medical school
Ultimately, Karan plans to split his time between clinical work, academia and private or government involvement. "I want to work for a university where I can teach, practice clinically and continue doing research and publishing in the field of global public health," Karan says. For example, he recently co-authored a book, Protecting the Health of the Poor, and is currently working with the American Medical Association (AMA) on a global-health-themed issue of the AMA Journal of Ethics. "I also want to work for a think tank, such as RAND Corporation or the Brookings Institution, or a government organization, such as the CDC or the U.S. Agency for International Development."
By Taylor Mallory Holland