By Allison Stevens, from the Consortium for Health Policy and Systems Analysis in Africa (CHEPSAA)
It is exciting to be in a new field of research, but young researchers have to figure out how best to develop their careers in a field that is emerging. Finding other like-minded peers can also be challenging and at best, they discover that many of their peers with similar interests are in other countries!
Fortunately, the new field of Health Policy & Systems Research and Analysis (HPSR+A) has a wonderful intervention for young researchers that enhances their research and networking capacity: Antwerp’s Institute of Tropical Medicine’s Emerging Voices for Global Health (EV4GH) initiative.
This is a platform for young HPSR+A researchers, which encourages young researchers to have their voice heard through presenting research in conference formats and getting intensive skills training as well as content training in methodology. EV4GH brings together 50 young HPSR+A researchers, from low and middle income countries and this year, it was Beijing that was the chosen meeting point.
Here at the Consortium for Health Policy & Systems Analysis in Africa (CHEPSAA), two of our researchers from the University of Cape Town’s Health Economics Unit were selected from 100s of applicants to be part of EV4GH: Dr Judith Daire (postdoctoral fellow) and Marsha Orgill (researcher). They joined the initiative for three weeks during October 2012.
In the run-up to the initiative, Marsha led an online conversation with other participants about Lucy Gilson’s Health Policy and Systems Methodology Reader published by the World Health Organisation to help others learn about the publication and how to use it in more detail.
Marsha facilitated a fishbowl discussion during a pre-conference session on challenges and opportunities for female health system researchers and Judith presented her work in the EV session at the actual symposium. She also recalls the interesting activity of ‘speed dating’ where junior researchers were each given an opportunity to ask senior researchers key questions, for example, what does it take to be a good researcher?
EV4GH taught all participants communication skills and valuable research presentation skills. Based on training received from communication consultants and comments from fellow emerging voices , Marsha did a presentation at the Health Systems Research Conference in Beijing on proposed methods for monitoring and evaluating health system changes in South Africa, and Judith prepared a poster and a video on her postdoctoral fellowship research work looking at management and leadership practises of health managers in South Africa (also available on YouTube).
“I have a new view on presenting and the importance of using visual aids in presentations is more apparent to me” said Marsha after reflecting on the many ways in which EV4GH benefitted her.
EV4GH is a comprehensive full-day programme and participants get to engage extensively with peers and on occasion, there were visiting experts that provided useful content insights in health systems research.
Participants enjoyed the field visits to China’s health care system. Speaking of one such visit, Judy said, “we visited a village where people are selected by the community to be doctors and then get training from the Ministry of Health. It was striking to see the wide range of activities they were responsible for, especially tasks that are normally done by nurses, for example, putting up drips and administering treatments intravenously.”
A group of EV4GH researchers in front of a Center for Disease Control Office which they also visited on the field trips in China
Both Marsha and Judy advised other researchers interested in attending EV4GH to take the programme seriously and to use their own initiative to learn as much as they can. As Judy said, “you will have to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.” You will meet a lot of interesting contacts who will inspire you to build a career in HPSR+A.