"Forget networking - focus on making genuine connections with people in your field and strive to create lasting friendships."
Alumni Profile: Samantha Lenore Walker, MPH '17
Please list your job title, employer name and employer location.
Previous: Senior Research Assistant, Department of Health Policy and Management, The George Washington University
Current: Evidence to Programs Research Officer, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation – Malawi, 2017-2018 Global Health Corps Fellow
What degree did you receive from GW? What was your concentration?
MPH Epidemiology (2017)
Please tell us about your former position. Can you describe a typical day?
I worked under Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan in the Department of Health Policy and Management. While my title was research assistant my role encompassed more organizational and programmatic duties. I found this to be a nice change of pace in comparison to the intensive coursework of my masters. It allowed me to exercise and develop an important, but often overlooked skillset in the world of Public Health.
My typical day depended on the time of year. The biggest component of my job was coordinating the Residency Fellowship in Health Policy (RFHP) – a biweekly intensive health policy course for medical residents from GW. Coordination consisted of planning the daily schedule and reaching out to NGOs, government offices, think-thanks, professors, and public health leaders in the D.C. area to arrange either site visits or didactic sessions with the residents. Coordinating the RFHP was an excellent exercise in organization and management as well as a lot of fun. I got to visit institutions and meet people I may not have otherwise had a chance to. During non RFHP planning season I worked in conjunction with other team members on projects related to social mission in medical education. I was responsible for planning and disseminating a blog series and regular newsletter for the Beyond Flexner Alliance. I also contributed regularly to the planning and implementation of the Leaders for Health Equity fellowship program via candidate selection and program coordination.
Please tell us about your current position. Can you describe a typical day?
I am an evidence to programs research officer for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation in Malawi. My typical day involves a lot of writing. I am currently developing a research protocol for psychosocial support teen clubs for HIV+ adolescents in Malawi. I am also working on a manuscript for a previous project for PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission) services in Cameroon. I frequently develop literature briefs for our SI&E (Strategic Monitoring and Evaluation) and Technical Teams for current topics of interest, like viral load, male wellness, or early infant diagnosis to help inform decision making. I also contribute to routine data analysis for district level program update meetings as well as conduct analysis for data collected for protocols currently being implemented. Occasionally, I travel into the field to conduct trainings for new or updated study protocols as well as travel for study supervision for protocols in place. And, of course, I sometimes have to do routine data entry and cleaning as our team is quite small!
Please tell us about your path from the Milken Institute School of Public Health to where you are today. How did you get your first job in the field?
I worked full time in the Department of Health Policy and Management as a research assistant during my degree program. Along with my duties in my department detailed above and my school work, I worked on a volunteer basis at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation as a research assistant. My first project with them was part of my practicum requirements but I continued to work on additional projects because I loved the work and people so much. The bulk of my work was on projects on barriers to and facilitators of getting HIV+ pregnant women on ART (antiretroviral therapy). I developed literature reviews, analyzed qualitative data, and created summary tables based on the data. My mentor was impressed with my work specific to my practicum and not only had me contribute to the final report for the Ministry of Health of Swaziland but invited me to continue work on a new project the following year. Because I had more experience under my belt the new project gave me additional responsibilities of creating the codebook for analysis as well as supervising other research assistants on the project. My continued work at EGPAF put me in contact with the director of research who I was able to coordinate with to work on my Culminating Experience at EGPAF. Additionally, though a formal certificate or pathway was no longer available, I crafted my coursework during my Masters to have a focus on HIV/AIDS studies. I took nearly every course available within the GW School of Public Health that was focused on HIV/AIDS, these included Dr. Magnus’ Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS, Dr. Guay’s Pediatric HIV/AIDS, Dr. Phelps’ Issues in HIV Care and Treatment, and Professor Seiler’s HIV Policy in the US. My intimate relationship with EGPAF staff and continued work with the organization and knowledge of the field via my coursework really made my application stand apart for Global Health Corps and also let me use my connections to secure the fellowship position in Malawi.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
The best career advice I ever received was very specific to my situation. As I neared graduation I expressed to my mentor at EGPAF that I was considering applying for entry level jobs at EGPAF and similar organizations. She advised me to take the chance and apply for something that would give me direct experience in the field. I had already expressed my interest in the Global Health Corps, but wasn’t sure if I was going to apply. She urged me that despite my accomplishments thus far, without direct field experience under my belt I was always going to reach a ceiling in my career in global health. This direct, untempered advice was the push to officially apply to GHC and quite literally changed my life.
Who inspires you and why?
I am continuously inspired by my friends and peers in this field. Quite honestly, health equity work can be mentally taxing and the affects of the work you put in today are not always seen tomorrow. However, my class of fellows and others I have met in this field are some of the most genuine, hardworking, people you will meet. These are people who are motivated not by personal gain but an honest desire to leave the world a better place than when they started and keep a sense of positivity throughout.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?
There are lots of avenues and concentrations in the field of Global Health and once you’re in it you realize lots of people know each other. My biggest piece of advice is to take the opportunities that you can and make genuine connections with people who are doing work that interests you. I shy away from the term “networking” and like to think of it as making a new friend. There are also a number of professors at GW who are willing to help you out in anyway if you put the effort in. I know that the genuine relationships I built at EGPAF were an important part of my final selection for the fellowship position in Malawi as well as the connections I made in the program with professors who looked over my resume and application materials and guided me in the right direction.
A lot of the professors at GW (both tenured and adjunct alike) work directly with projects and organizations in the field of global health. I don’t want to paint my path as completely easy and I will be honest that I got rejected quite often – for example, I was rejected by the Global Health Fellows Program (through USAID) twice after making it to the interview round and I was rejected outright for the Presidential Management Fellows Program. However, the connections I made through the process and maintaining friendly contact kept me on the right path. I was routinely sent requests to apply to new positions or projects. With that said, my second piece of advice would be to not get discouraged by rejection and to keep at it!
What was the impetus for getting your degree at the Milken Institute SPH?
My undergraduate background was in the field of ecology. While I still have a love and appreciation for it, towards my senior year of college I started to recognize the importance of people centered world change. I took a class titled “World Populations and Food Prospects” and this was my first formal introduction to the world of public health. After graduating I began working at a small non-profit clinic helping our patients get on patient assistance programs through pharmaceutical companies so that they could get their medications for free or a reduced cost. I eventually moved on to a clinical research coordinator position where I worked on various protocols. I always knew that I eventually wanted to get my Master of Public Health. I chose GW out of the other schools I was accepted to because of how easily accessible the professors were just during the application process and once I was accepted. Further, it was really hard to beat living in the D.C. area during the program with the level of access you have to think-tanks, government institutions, and NGOs, I definitely took full advantage of that.