“Sometimes I just feel young public health professionals pay too much or go through hell to build a career.  The more influence you have, the faster you rise to the top.  But if you have none, you just have to pay the price in full coin.”

 

The fact that the public health field prioritizes social justice and equity in best practice is part of what motivated me to enter it.  Being multidisciplinary makes public health a more encompassing pool, which should be of an advantage (Public health is multidisciplinary in the sense that we have people from diverse backgrounds pursue a career in public health after their first degree or they change their career path to public health after a major experience).  The diversity should be a strength that enriches the field with more insights and solutions and enhances collaboration and partnership. If we are to protect the interests of those in need, then equity must start with us and in our own work.  I am a young public health professional who had come to believe that after honest toil within the four walls of a university, the outside world should be not just rewarding of one’s efforts, but receptive to the solutions their studies have granted them.  The reality is far from this expectation, as young public health professionals around the world are expected to have had an unrealistic number of years undertaking work experience, even when volunteering opportunities (usually without commensurate pay) are far too limited to meet demand.  It has become increasingly more difficult to secure an internship or a volunteering position even with the highest health-making body.  Wide disparity still exists from region to region; there is more of a chance that you will be considered if you come from some particular regions rather than others.

After his final master’s thesis defence, a friend decided to approach an organization for an internship.  It was an unpaid volunteer position, which he took on without pay.  He had to undertake full-time working hours and close just like paid members of staff.  He had to take two taxis in the morning before getting to work and the same back home, which was not reimbursed by his organisation.  For a struggling young professional, the cost became overwhelming quickly, and he was left with the option of taking the long walk each day.  Most times, he trekked kilometres to get to work early enough so he could settle down, take a deep breath, and clean off his sweat before the working day began.  No one noticed what he had to endure simply to get to work and offer his insights for free.

This situation is not uncommon.  Countless young professionals are trapped within these interstices, journeying through a rocky – rather than linear – career path.  The journey is often filled with fear, struggle, and so much uncertainty.  It might make economic sense a non-altruistic organisation that sees only profits made and budgets cut, but the negative impact of the exploitation of overqualified and unpaid young people is that we risk the possibility of raising a generation of jaded and unmotivated future public health leaders, or of losing many trained professionals to seek opportunities elsewhere… where they can be valued and rewarded.

Sometimes I just feel that young public health professionals pay too much or go through hell to build a career.  The more influence you have, the faster you rise to the top, but if you have none, you just have to pay the price in full coin.  I also think most public health organisations should make a conscious effort to remove the splinter in their own eyes before reaching for the log in the eyes of others: Before they promote the concept of equity and demand engagement with young public health professionals, they should be fair to them in terms of policies, programmes, financial reward and career progression.

As a young public health professional, rather than fall into despair, I would rather be hopeful that we live in a changing time.  We live in a time in which world leaders – both ministerial and in civil society – have the opportunity to create significant change for the betterment of the next generation of sustainable development leaders.  Historic men like Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organisation should show leadership by prioritising and influencing policies to change the status quo for young public health professionals for the better: to create a reality in which the work of young public health professionals is recognized and valued appropriately.  We need policies that create more inclusive spaces for young public health professionals to network, collaborate, and develop to their maximum potential.

The implementation of something like this has the potential of creating a ripple effect across other organizations across an entire generation.  We need a voice to speak for us at global platforms so that organizations can become more aware of our own exploitation and make a commitment to institutionalizing change.  Just like we call for more resources for diseases that threaten our collective existence, we should call for more resources and paid programmes that will ease the transition of young people into a lifelong and promising career development.  I sincerely think that strategic investment in young public health professionals is not just smart, but will secure the future health and economic stability of the world.  It’s an investment in raising professionals with the requisite skills and motivation to meet future challenges and create intergenerational sustainability.  Equity begins with us, not without us.

 

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