Doctors Specializing in Global Health Expect the Unexpected and Constantly Adjust for New Challenges


“You’ve been trained in Global Health, so you know it’s a complicated arena where you always expect the unexpected. You need to remain flexible and adapt when circumstances change – which they always do. Uncertainty is the norm, so don’t get upset when things don’t go according to plan.”

These were the principal words of advice proffered by guest speaker, Prof. Charles Larson of McGill University at the 16th graduation ceremony of the Medical School for International Health (MSIH) at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Larson, a specialist in Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine from Montreal’s McGill University, offered his five main tenets to the 35 new doctors receiving their MD diplomas this year.

Larson was speaking from vast personal knowledge. His global health career began in 1987 when he joined the McGill-Ethiopia Strengthening Community Health Project, which he directed from 1989 to 1992. Since then he has headed the McGill Medical Faculty Global Health Office and led a five-year population child health project in Chelyabinsk, Russia. In 2002 he moved to Bangladesh where he directed the Health Systems and Infectious Diseases Division at the International Centre for Diarrheal Diseases Research, Bangladesh. Today he is National Coordinator of the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research and as an adjunct professor still teaches in McGill’s Global Health Program.

The Graduation Ceremony, held at Ben-Gurion University, was attended by nearly 300 family members and friends from across the globe.

“It’s a very rushed time,” explains MSIH director, Prof. Mark Clarfield. “Following a successful Match, most of our graduates begin residency in the US literally within days of graduating in Israel. Fortunately, they’re well equipped for the challenge; MSIH teaches them to deal with pressured and unpredictable situations – which is what Global Health medicine is all about.”

In his presentation, Prof. Larson’s remaining four suggestions to the new graduates were:

  • Always remember to have a life outside medicine. Take your work seriously, and invest your energy, but make sure you have an outlet for taking a break.
  • Remain optimistic – even “pathologically optimistic”. Global Health is a difficult domain and you need inner strength. Don’t let failures drag you down and hold on tightly to the vision you’re trying to achieve.
  • Identify your own best qualities – which aren’t always what you think they are. Sometimes you discover your talents when faced with particular circumstances. Trust yourself, and do what creates your greatest sense of fulfillment. Always be open to a change of course.
  • Practice the Art of Medicine. Being a doctor is not just research and science, but a much wider field that involves interaction with all types of people and situations. Stay subjective and maintain good relations with your patients and with your colleagues.

MSIH was established in 1998 and in its 19 years has graduated nearly 550 specialist physicians – many today working in Global Health across the globe. The School is affiliated with Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and senior lecturers from Columbia attend the school each year to present courses.