Since childhood, I’ve always dreamt to travel the world.
Now that my career objectives are becoming clearer, I now choose to believe that this passion for travel serves a purpose: it reminds me of how I should be open to new perspectives and experiences. Very useful, especially for someone carving a career in the academe.
In the middle of my mid-year vacation in Taiwan, I met up with a public health researcher from another Southeast Asian country, four years my senior and already a post-doctoral research fellow at Taipei Medical University (TMU). In between more light-hearted topics, I was asked by my new friend about the research I was doing. With cordial but hard-hitting frankness, he told me that my subject matter is already obsolete, and I need to look at new angles to solving public health problems.
I was stunned.
Thankfully, he invited me on short notice to attend an international public health summit, a collaboration between TMU and the schools of public health of the University of Tokyo and the National University of Singapore. I expected that it would be a chance to be updated. I was looking for a new conceptual framework on which I could help improve my thinking patterns as a budding researcher in my field.
Gladly, I wasn’t disappointed. There were three key messages that I picked up from the summit:
- More than just focusing on the science, public health needs to develop its own art. It should provide solutions that not only address superficial needs but also, “hidden commitments” and cultural norms, which require a more creative approach.
- Public health should shake itself off from a fragmented, health service-oriented conceptual framework imposed on it by biomedical science. As it is a public discipline, it needs to integrate points of view from implementors, academics and frontline health workers. It needs to be led by people who know how to carry out interventions, promote them and assess them.
- Finally, public health should provide its practitioners with the skill to zoom out of the picture and recognize one’s role in maintaining health security. This should go beyond political boundaries. As a partially recognized political entity without benefit of full membership in various international organizations, Taiwan is quite experienced with this. In pushing for a greater role in maintaining health security, it used one of its most powerful forces: its academe.
Somehow my experiences have taught me these things, but it is gratifying to hear these lessons straight from the experts.
This gathering reminded me to regularly zoom out and connect with like-minded researchers who have amassed experiences and have become prolific authors. When asked about his secret, my new friend told me that it’s all about being passionate for one’s chosen field of research. If one is indeed passionate, he would be willing to sacrifice time and resources to achieve one’s goal.
I am happy that these realizations became part of an already existing passion for travel. But I’m more happy now I now have a better reason.
It will challenge me to be more productive, as I continue my goal to bring the barrio doctor voice to the academe. It will allow me to become a better public health researcher.
Finally, it will allow me to work better towards the goal of promoting “health for all.”
Thanks to Dr. Tuyen Van Duong for inviting me to this event (and for taking the picture above), and for Dr. Don Prisno for linking me up with colleagues at Taipei Medical University.
The speakers at the International Public Health Summit at TMU were Dr. Masamine Jimba, professor of community and global health at the University of Tokyo, Dr. Chia Kee Seng, dean of the Saw See Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, and Dr. Kuo Nai-wen, dean of the school of public health at TMU.