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U of M Voices: Exploring the nuances and complexities of global health

Editor’s note: Rebecca Schultz is a first year Master of Public Health student in Public Health Administration and Policy.  She was part of the winning team at the 2014 UMN Global Health Case Competition which went on to take fourth place at the Emory University International Global Health Case Competition on March 29, 2014.

I had only one certainty when I decided to sign-up for the University of Minnesota’s Global Health Case Competition, and that was knowing I would be tackling a global health issue.

Little did I realize that a proposed strategy for how China should invest in sanitation, would lead to a national competition and the challenge of restructuring the World Health Organization (WHO). Even though I put in countless hours debating strategy and presentation late into the night with my team, I can definitively say I have gotten far more out of the experience than I put in.

As you may have already assumed, I did not become a global health expert over the course of two case competitions, but I did gain a stronger appreciation for the nuances and complexity of global health.

When solving global health challenges there are many factors to consider, but during the course of the competitions I found the following to be key: identify and consider all the stakeholders involved and the perspectives they bring to the situation; scalability and feasibility are vital – great ideas cannot become actionable without these; and maybe most importantly, the fact that there is no right solution, only the best one right now. The latter point is the reason it is vital for students at the University of Minnesota to pursue global health today and into the future. New information is constantly coming to light providing different perspectives and resources to address global health concerns, but the societal evolution of countries and cultures also means there will always be new issues emerging.

This exact point was well demonstrated going into the final round of the national competition, when all advancing teams were informed that Russia was taking an aggressive stance against the WHO. We were instructed to address this politically charged move by Russia as we saw fit during our final presentation. This hypothetical situation we were presented underlines the very real impact that politics, as well as culture, resources, and economics play in the success or failure of global health progress.

As the saying goes, “the journey is more important than the destination” and that holds true for these competitions. They are more than just developing and presenting a winning strategy, they are about the process involved with arriving at the finished product. Becoming comfortable giving and receiving forthright feedback in high stress situations, digesting mass quantities of information on foreign topics such as composting toilets, working under tight time constraints, and having the confidence to field questions from  experts in global health were all important experiences from my global health case competition journey.

For more information on the University of Minnesota’s Global Health Case Competition, visit the Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility website.

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