Never Again or Never Give Up? The Reality for Global Health Workers

Rex Wong, Director, GHLI, Health Management and Leadership

Rex Wong, Director, GHLI, Health Management and Leadership
Being a manager of global health programs in Africa for more than a decade, I receive many inquiries from young, energetic, people who want to join the world of global health. Apparently I am “living their dreams.” I see equally as many people who were just as passionate only to realize that this work may actually be just that … a dream.  

New groups continuously come to this country ready to make a difference. While they enter with good intentions, reality often leads to frustration and, within a year, I see many of them pack their bags and leave vowing “never again.”  

Global health can be deceivingly glamorous and brutally demoralizing. During one of my first presentations recommending strategic plans and ideas to the Ethiopian government and hospitals, the stunned faces and you-are-out-of-your-mind looks told me it was not going to be easy. I tried regardless. This year, as I spoke to master in hospital administration students in Ethiopia, the responses I received could not be more different. Not only have the students heard of the systems we’ve taught all these years, many have even implemented them. As a global health worker, I could not have asked for better reward.  

Sometimes it’s hard to believe we make any progress, not to mention impact. But I don’t fail to see the improvements we have made – a toilet in the hospital being fixed or a cashier being relocated to a more convenient place for patients. Every now and then, I receive unexpected appreciation from a staff or a patient and that would make it all worth it. We cannot give them more salary or promotions, but we offer glimpses of better future.  

Nobody ever said it would be easy or that change would be drastic. Many of us may not stay in a country long enough to see the results, but know all efforts are valuable and we are making a difference. 
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