This March 2013 article lays out some interesting information about the nature of global health careers within the United States. As with any survey-based approach, the population approached as well as the response rate are key, and it’s far from clear that this is the “ideal” survey to comprehend global health within US physician careers (I’m awaiting a similar survey from the CUGH as likely the best way to get data on the largest group of physicians involved in global health; how to do it for the US as a whole would require a lot more public health knowledge than I possess) – but that said, as the authors note, surveying several decades of Robert Wood Johnson Fellows is a great way to catch a wide swathe of physician-leaders with a heavy interest in the underserved.
Key findings from my perspective include the overall high rate of participation in global health activities – 44% (of the ~66% eligible who responded) – as well as the very high rate of those whose work in global health consumed a relatively small portion of their time, with 73% spending < 10% of their professional time on global health activities. Too, the finding that more men (50%) than women (36%) participated in global health activities was notable.
There are a range of caveats applicable to the study, and I’m sure that the amount of global health activity is markedly higher than in the general group of US physicians (~800,000 in number; it would be quite interesting to get some information about the overall participation in global health at some representative state medical societies somehow). In particular, I do wonder how many of the respondents considered “professional activity” to solely be paid work vs encompassing all medical activities, though I suspect most (as do I) would wrap unpaid work with an NGO into their professional activities.
On balance this survey confirms my general impression from my peers – global health within the context of a busy medical career in the States (whether private, public, or academic) is difficult to pursue on a full-time basis unless you have funded research or work for an NGO, is difficult to integrate with a family, and is difficult to have acknowledged as an appropriate portion of a career in many settings. In many ways, it’s just nice to have the impressions affirmed with some quantitative and qualitative data. Too, results like these help us think further about what global health careers ideally should look like, going forward, which is something worth pondering as an increasing number of global health exposed and/or global health active faculty move upwards through the sundry power structures of modern America.