Award winning Public Health Specialist and MSc Public Health (2008) graduate, Dorcas Gwata shared with the Alumni Team the impact studying at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has had on her career and the recognition her work in public health has received.
Dorcas was working as a Mental Health Nurse in the National Health Service (NHS) as the HIV crisis was escalating in Africa. She knew that she wanted to work in global health and give back to Africa but was unclear about which pathways would allow her to do so. “I contacted my now great mentor Professor Vikram Patel, who suggested that I study at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, a defining decision in my career. Today, I am a finer clinician, analyst and public health specialist because of the wealth of knowledge that I gained at the [School].”
As a frontline clinician, she worked shifts in an inner London Accident and Emergency Department, whilst she was studying. She struggled to juggle clinical work with studying for a MSc Public Health, however her supervisor Dr. Nicki Thorogood was incredibly supportive. She understood the pressure that Dorcas was under, and helped her to think through solutions and consider different learning styles.
The relationships Dorcas formed at the school have been incredibly useful and remain solid to this day. She has collaborated and consulted on research and analysis with various students that she met on the course. “I am grateful for the on-going contact I have with my tutor, Dr Nicki Thorogood, she is always just an email away”.
Since gaining her degree from the School, Dorcas has gone on to have a commendable career in public health. She currently works on a project that provides mental health interventions for young people and families affected by gang culture in London, the majority of whom are from minority backgrounds. Additionally, she is involved in HIV Mental Health projects in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, she recently contributed to a UK Parliamentary paper that explored lessons learnt from the last Ebola crisis, and her current research explores lessons that the NHS can learn from low income countries.
Dorcas highlighted an important moment in her career; in 2013 she was working as a Mental Health Advisor for a charity called AFRUCA, which was formed against the backdrop of the Victoria Climbie case. She explained that this experience strengthened her knowledge and skills in safeguarding and African cultural practices such as female genital mutiliation (FGM), human trafficking, witchcraft branding and migration issues afffecting affecting African families in the UK. Today she analyses African affairs on many media platforms, as well as runs her own blog www.tribalsands.com
Indeed her achievements have not gone unnoticed, she was named RCN Nursing Standard Mental Health Nurse 2015 for her work in innovative methods of engaging with young people involved in gangs. In 2015 she was nominated for the Zimbabwe International Women’s Award, in 2014 she was awarded the Florence Nightingale Travel Scholarship, which allowed her to carry out research on the Friendship Bench Project in Zimbabwe and extrapolate lessons from that model into her clinical work with young people involved in gangs in London. “Ultimately though my proudest moments are those moments when I make a difference in the lives of vulnerable individuals.”
When asked about what the future holds for her career in public health, Dorcas told us “We have achieved some amazing milestones in delivering cost effective, culturally acceptable mental health care through the Friendship Bench program in Zimbabwe. I would like to work in Global Health Policy and help shape policies and strategies for better mental health care for minority groups and those in low income countries. Within my media analyst role, I would like to continue to provide progressive platforms that discuss and re-shape narrative about and around Africa. Despite its global health challenges, the continent is rising.”
Dorcas took the time to acknowledge a number of people who have been instrumental in supporting her throughout her career. They include: Dr Tami, KramerCAMHS Consultant; Professor Vikram Patel, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Professor Peter Carter ex-President RCN; Dr Melanie Abas, Friendship Bench Project; Dr Kate Adams, Chair of ZHTS; Professor Vesile Senturk Cankorur; Dr Titilola Banjoko, Better Health for Africa; Dr Nicki Thorogood, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; and her family.
In closing Dorcas wanted to offer some advice to current students “Studying at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is one the greatest privileges in your career, the standards of learning are very high. They are high because they are setting you up for higher goals in your career. Study hard and take time to enjoy this cosmopolitan multi-cultural city.”
Thank you Dorcas for sharing your experience with us. We wish you continued success in your career.