Please help me narrow down my place in (international) women's health, and help me map a path to get to that place.
March 12, 2012 9:15 PM   Subscribe

Please help me narrow down my place in (international) women's health, and help me map a path to get to that place.

I'm 25. For the past 10 years or so I've known that I want to work in women's health, and I have a strong but unfulfilled interest in international women's health. I do not want to be a doctor, nurse, or probably therapist (patients wear me out, as I learned as I worked in a reproductive health clinic), but I want to be useful.

Isn't that so frustratingly vague? I know, it's terrible. I'm interested in eventually working on domestic or international women's health policy or going into research, but I also want to travel, learn about the way non-US countries support reproductive health, and be of service to women globally. I'm pretty uneducated about what non-medical positions do that, however, and so I ask:

1) What do non-doctors/non-therapists do internationally, in NGOs or otherwise, in this field? Where do they do it (i.e. are there particular skills in demand in particular parts of the world?)?

2) How did they get there? What certifications, educations, experiences are helpful? What skills or talents are useful? What organizations do they work for?

3) Is there an already-existent resource that addresses these questions? I've done a fair amount of reading online about organizations of interest, but I'm trying to expand my research to personal experiences and ideas.

If it helps, I worked in a women's health clinic after college and recently started an office/research job in the same field; I'm planning on starting an MPH or MPP program in fall 2013, and am open to working on a PhD. I intend to do informational interviews with interesting people as I find them, but am hoping for some jumping-off points for my own research. I'm a good writer, patient care burns me out, I really enjoy planning projects and problem-solving, and I'm out of the language-learning habit but used to be able to communicate in French and Spanish. Thank you for any guidance or suggestions you share.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Work & Money (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I know a few people who work in policy in this field, by way of a scientific background as opposed to a clinical background, which isnnot to suggest going the scientific route, but rather to emphasize that it definitely can be done without a clinical degree. Their occupations vary in terms of duties from communications, putting together workshops surveys and assessments, and managing overseas programs. The degrees you are already looking into will probably help in terms of demonstrating analytical skills, program management, etc. but having experience working overseas in ANY capacity will really make you a stronger candidate for these type of positions. So I'd look for opportunities to gain international work/volunteer experience, or to demonstrate your ability to work well with and understand other cultures, if you don't have this type of experience this far. Hopefully someone more knowledgeable in this field than I can help with specifics. Best of luck!
posted by NikitaNikita at 9:40 PM on March 12, 2012

Health communications / promotions? How do you get health messages out? What are the appropriate ways of doing this in different communities? How can you tell if the program is effective?

Could fit with either of those Masters programs, languages can be helpful. An example of someone who worked on some projects I know of has their resume up here and the list of organisations he has done work for here. I'm sure there are similar people who have focussed on women's health.

I would also have a look at Marie Stopes as a specialist NGO in international women's reproductive health and the types of things they may be involved with besides clinical services. Look at their blog and their news for ideas - you can then look for other orgs who do this sort of stuff too.

There is heaps of stuff on Development Gateway about women's and children's health in international development. It might also help with more ideas.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:37 AM on March 13, 2012

I work at a large international NGO known for our work in reproductive health (though I work in infectious diseases). We have some doctors, but we have a lot of non-doctors. These non-doctors have many, many roles that I didn't even know existed until I started working here. For example, my org is looking to introduce this new procedure for women into the national policy in X, Y, and Z country. (I'm sorry, I don't want to be too specific.) That means that first we had people invent that procedure (that's the doctors, but it also includes accountants, project managers, communications people, and grant writers). Then, we worked on the procedure with women all over the world to see what they thought. Now, we are working to integrate it into these local health systems. Again, some doctors, but many not - a lot of very specialized technical people (that's development speak for "advanced degree plus specific experience") who work in fields like health systems strengthening, introduction of technologies, procurement, health care waste management, but also a lot of generalists / people who work on not just RH projects, who liaise with governments and partners and donors, who do communications and advocacy, who do health communications, who specialize in training...etc.

I highly recommend getting experience with an international organization before grad school. (You'll see I asked a similar question a few years ago, took the advice, and am happy I did.) International experience is highly prized.

Feel free to memail me for more about my org and others like us.
posted by quadrilaterals at 5:51 AM on March 13, 2012

There is a group called the Kisisi (I spelled that wrong) Foundation that provides tampons and pads to teenage girls. Apparently the taboo against mensturation there is so strong that teenage girls routinely miss a week of school per month because they can't manage their bleeding well enough to be in public. Google it and see if you can find it.
posted by elizeh at 7:31 PM on March 13, 2012

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