Meet Rachel Erickson, USC & Global Health Corps Alum

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Global Health Corps is a leadership development organization devoted to recruiting and training emerging leaders in global health equity. The organization provides opportunities for young professionals from diverse backgrounds to work on the frontlines of the fight for global health equity in Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and the United States. United by the belief that health is a human right, the GHC community is nearly 750-strong and is the changing the face of leadership in global health.

Applications for GHC fellowships are open now until Jan. 18, 2017. In this three-part series, we ask USC global health alumni about their international experiences as GHC fellows.

1. What did you study at USC? What did you do after graduation?

Rachel Erickson
Rachel Erickson
B.S. Global Health ’14, USC; Global Health Corps Fellow’ 15, Malawi

I majored in global health and minored in Psychology before graduating in May 2014. As an undergraduate, I interned at the USC Institute for Global Health, Emergency USA and After graduating and before becoming a fellow, I worked as an Operations Assistant with Ocean Park Community Center (now The People Concern), an organization that works to provide holistic services to the homeless population in Los Angeles County.

2. How did you become interested in global health?
My sophomore year at USC, I went on a medical brigade to Lima, Peru, with MEDLIFE. It was during this trip that I learned about global health as a field of study. I realized how much impact could be made through bottom-up, community-based efforts and came back and changed my major that Spring.

3. How did you hear of Global Health Corps and why did you apply?
I heard about GHC from a friend during my senior year. I immediately was attracted to GHC’s model of having co-fellow pairs, a focus on leadership development and working with high-impact organizations. I actually applied twice because I believed in the model so much and wanted to get a shot after the original rejection.

4. What was the application process like?
The application process is similar to a lot of fellowship applications in many ways. You’re expected to give an employment history, submit a resume and answer a few short essay questions. However, what really struck me about my recruitment process was the involvement of alumni in it. I was interviewed by an alum and the fellow I wound up replacing which is often rare in programs similar to GHC.

5. How did you feel when you were accepted?
Honestly, because I had applied and been rejected once before, I really didn’t believe it was true. I kept waiting for an email saying that a mistake had been made! I was also shocked because I’ve always admired the work of Partners In Health so much and felt so humbled to have been chosen to work with them.

6. What were the next steps?
I was accepted about two months before the fellowship officially began, so I began preparing for that on my own, but GHC also worked really hard to help us feel prepped. I was put in touch with multiple alumni who had worked at my site to ask questions and get a feel for what my placement would be like. Before leaving for Malawi, the entire fellowship class (about 134 of us) went to Yale University in New Haven, CT, for a two-week intensive training course in global health, leadership skills and just to network and meet one another. Additionally, throughout the year there are quarterly leadership workshops with your cohort to continue to develop the skills touched upon at Yale.

Global Health Corps Malawi 2015-16 Cohort.
Global Health Corps Malawi 2015-16 Cohort.

7. Where, and with whom, were you assigned to work?
I was assigned to work with Partners in Health (Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo) in Neno, Malawi, as Operations and Program Coordinator. As I said, I was so humbled and excited to be working for an organization that I respected so much. Additionally, I was really excited to have gotten a position in operations. The logistics and supply chain of global health is what I’m most passionate about and I was thrilled to find a fellowship that would help me develop professionally while working at an organization doing such incredible work.

8. What is/was the most exciting part or moment of your work abroad?
The most exciting part of my work so far has been getting to work with such a large team. My team spans four sub-departments (procurement, transport, distribution and warehouse) and I have learned so much about teamwork, logistics in a rural context, and supply chain in general from my experiences with them.

9. What is/was the most challenging part or moment of your work abroad?
The most challenging part of my work has been the rural context in which I work. This affects my life here both personally and professionally. I’m about three hours, one way, from the closest city with a grocery store and all of the vendors our organization uses. This presents many challenges in terms of transport & supply chain. Additionally, we often experience blackouts which cause limited access to internet and can make daily work challenging.

10. What has been the value of working abroad?
This is a pretty expected answer, but being thrown out of my comfort zone in every way that I could possibly imagine. I’ve grown so much in the last year and a half and am so thankful for it. There have been ups, downs and everything in between but I wouldn’t change it in any way. I’ve gained so much and feel like I can apply it to so many aspects of both my personal and professional life for years to come.

An epic sunset outside of my house in Neno

11. What were the most valuable skills you had to offer while working abroad? What skills would you recommend interested GHC applicants have?
I think this is a two-pronged answer. On one side, technical skills are incredibly valuable. This can be something like Microsoft Excel or something more technical like having a master’s degree with an emphasis in biostatistics. I am pretty good with Excel and actually facilitated a six-week training course for 40 of my colleagues during my fellowship year which was incredibly rewarding and valued by the organization. The other side of this answer is the soft skills that are seen as valuable. To be successful in this field, I think the most important skills are listening and compassion. I spent the first three months of my fellowship listening, absorbing and learning whether I thought it was right or wrong and this ultimately set me up for success in the long run. It helped me to build lasting relationships with my colleagues based in trust and respect which is ultimately how things happen in any context.

A group photo from the Transport team appreciation braai (BBQ) I hosted at my house in August.

12. What are you up to now?
I’m still working with PIH in Neno as Operations Manager and will be here through late July of 2017 after which I hope to begin an MBA program back in the States.

13.If you could go back in time to when you were at USC, what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself not to worry so much. I think college students today are under so much pressure, and a lot of it is self-driven. Looking back, things will always work out when you focus, work hard and are passionate about what you want to do. The right opportunities present themselves when you’re ready for them.

14. How do you think your global/public health education at USC helped prepare you for where you are now?
I think studying global health at USC definitely helped prepare me for my work in Neno. Whether that was through my experiences in class discussions about how one size doesn’t fit all in working on the ground, gaining organizational skills while planning Global Health Awareness Week and World Health Day LA while interning at the Institute for Global Health, or while being inspired by one of the incredible speakers that came to USC during my time there. I would encourage current students to take advantage of the many opportunities to be engaged in public and global health at USC and in Los Angeles.

15. What would you say to someone who is passionate about global health and is considering GHC?
I would say definitely apply if you are passionate about social justice and health equity! GHC is not only an opportunity for valuable on the ground, hands-on experience, but is also an opportunity to become engaged in a community of global leaders passionate about these issues for the rest of your life. I’m in contact with multiple alumni and community members on a weekly basis and know that this kind of connection is positively impacting a lot of the great work being done all over the world today.

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