Every year at LSHTM, a number of former US Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) join us as students on our master’s programmes.
In this interview, we speak with five of our current students – Isaac Devoid & Emma Sutter (MSc Public Health), Curtis Rodgers & Charles LeNeave (MSc Control of Infectious Diseases) and Emma Inhorn (MSc Public Health for Development) – to explore how their time as a PCV has benefited their studies and to find out more about their experiences at LSHTM.
Hi to you all and thanks for joining us. To start with, can you let us know a bit about your experience as a PCV?
Curtis: I was a PCV in central Mozambique (2017-19). I was in the health sector and worked primarily with my health center and a community-based organization focused on HIV treatment and prevention.
Emma S: I served as a Community Health Volunteer in Ethiopia (2016-18), working within the local health centre and high school in my village mostly around reproductive health, maternal health and malaria.
Charles: I volunteered in Panama as a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) volunteer (2017-19). My work primarily consisted of working with my community to promote healthy behavior change alongside education and infrastructure construction.
Emma I: I was also a WASH volunteer in a rural, indigenous community in Panama.
Isaac: I served as an HIV prevention and care volunteer in Botswana (2017-19), working in an urban setting outside the capital city, where the HIV prevalence was high and exacerbated by economic inequities.
That sounds like a fantastic range of activities! So why did you then decide to study at LSHTM?
Emma I: Peace Corps had sparked my interest in continuing my public health training. I had a craving to go back to school—the idea of studying and applying what practical knowledge I had learned in the field to an academic setting felt exciting. LSHTM is so international and there is such opportunity for collaboration; it felt like the perfect place. On a practical note, I applied from Panama and it was a fairly easy application process that didn’t require the GRE.
Charles: I wanted a program with a global reach and emphasis on developing countries, and preferably from a school that was a big player in that area. From there LSHTM seemed like the best fit for me as it offers a one-year program over the two years required at other schools I considered.
Emma S: After working closely with the health extension workers in my community in Ethiopia, I knew I wanted to continue to promote community health measures in developing countries. With grad school as the clear next step, I chose LSHTM due to the international student body, range of expertise from the professors and the ability to study health in both developing and developed contexts.
You’ve already taken a leap of faith by joining Peace Corps, this is another leap I highly recommend!
We offer quite a range of programs at LSHTM, so why did you choose your particular MSc?
Isaac: I chose the MSc Public Health as it gave me the opportunity to explore different facets of public health that caught my interest. After the first term, I discovered my love of health economics and decided on the health economics stream.
Curtis: I choose the MSc Control of Infectious Diseases to receive extensive training in infectious disease epidemiology and disease control programs as well as the summer field work component.
Emma I: The great thing about the MSc Public Health for Development is that it requires experience working in international development. It is great to learn from other people who have lots of experience in the field, and everyone could apply their backgrounds to class discussions.
Speaking of which, how would you describe the make-up of your class in terms of their backgrounds and nationalities?
Emma I: People come from all over for the MSc Public Health for Development – it’s about 25% from the US, 25% from countries in Africa, 25% from Europe and 25% from South America and Asia. It’s nice to have such a diverse group of people with experience from all over the world.
Curtis: My class is about 55 students, all ages and experience levels. It’s probably about 1/3 British, 1/3 American, and 1/3 everywhere else (France, Italy, Nigeria, Japan, Norway, Colombia to name a few). There is a mixture of professional backgrounds, including clinicians, microbiologists, epidemiologists, researchers, and engineers.
Isaac: My classes are incredibly diverse, and feature students from across the globe. Furthermore, the students have a variety of experiences when entering the program such as former physicians, program managers, humanitarians, and economists. The different experiences has led to dynamic discussions inside and outside the classroom that mold your view of public and global health.
Emma S: The make-up of our class is by far my favorite part about LSHTM! The varying backgrounds and nationalities allow us to hear about how different countries think through and implement Public Health measures with personal anecdotes to support them. The mix of people also make anyone and everyone you talk to extremely interesting and awesome contacts to have as you continue your career.
How have you found the teaching and the relationship between students and faculty?
Charles: I went to a large undergrad university so it was fun to have several courses that were quite small and interactive. Many professors are very approachable and eager to help ensure you understand the material and how to apply it, but like other schools there are professors that are very busy and difficult to get hold of.
Isaac: The teaching is fantastic and is attributable to the professors and their willingness to go above and beyond. They have incredible experiences and are so distinguished within their respective fields, but they are always willing to sit down and help students in any way they can.
Emma S: The teaching is perfect because you can make it whatever you want it to be. Some people foster stronger relationship with their teachers while others prefer to do more on their own. Either way, each professor is open to whatever is the best way you learn.
Do you find that your experience as a PCV has benefited you in your studies?
Isaac: My experience as a PCV has given me unique insights to apply in the classroom, or even on my assignments. Often we’ll be discussing something in class that I have already met in the field and can give a testament to that experience.
Emma S: Being a PCV has truly benefited me in every class I’ve taken. I come in with not only some knowledge about how my host country’s healthcare system, but am able to go back and assess how I did my work there, what I could’ve done better and how that work might be applicable in different settings.
Curtis: Sitting in a classroom and studying health policy and control programs removes us so much from the communities where health interventions are taking place that sometimes we lose sight and perspective of the immense challenges and barriers that people face in accessing and receiving proper care. Being a PCV – and having witnessed first-hand some of the injustices and the logistical issues that exist in implementing health programs – was invaluable when learning about these topics at LSHTM.
Looking back over the past year, what have you enjoyed most about your time at LSHTM?
Curtis: The thing I’ve enjoyed the most at LSHTM is the great community that has formed in my class and the School. There are so many interesting and friendly people that have made it a really fun, enjoyable and inclusive experience.
Charles: I have most enjoyed meeting people from around the world and learning from the insights they share during the modules. There is a wealth of experience to learn from that I would not have otherwise encountered.
Emma S: The collaboration between students. From interacting in seminars, to helping for a summer project to even Friday happy hours, the way the students come together academically and socially is what I enjoy most.
That sounds like quite a unanimous answer then! So what are you planning to do next, and what skills have you acquired at LSHTM to help you in your career?
Charles: After my MSc I want to go to medical school. As someone who wants to work as a doctor in developing contexts as well as conflict and crises, I think the program at LSHTM has given me many connections with those already doing that with their lives, and has allowed me to better understand and prepare for what lies ahead.
Emma I: I would like to work in WASH or sexual health program development. Working as a public health engineer or consultant would be my ideal situation. I have learned so much about evidence-based best practices and how important monitoring and evaluation are in project development. I think my time here has enhanced my understanding of my time as a PCV and really helped me to process my time in the field, as well.
Isaac: I would like to continue using the health economics skills I have gained throughout my MSc to help countries effectively allocate scarce resources within health systems.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone considering studying at LSHTM?
Isaac: The programs are quite intense, but you learn so quickly using problem-based learning methods that have helped me retain the information well. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in public health, LSHTM has a variety of programs that are world class. Look carefully at the coursework for each program before choosing!
Charles: Unlike Peace Corps, I think it is a good idea to set yourself some expectations, or at least an idea of what you would like to get out of your MSc. There are so many interesting modules to choose from, and I often found it painful to choose. If you have an idea of what you want to learn, or what skills employers will want you to have coming out of your program, it will make these choices easier.
Emma S: You’ve already taken a leap of faith by joining Peace Corps, this is another leap I highly recommend! Take advantage of the people you meet, the staff you get to interact with, ask a million questions, and apply your Peace Corps knowledge!
Thank you all very much for your time and for sharing your experiences.