My reflections as a student at BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health
After medical graduating, I came to Dhaka for my internship training. Since my third medical year, I made my mind to pursue a public health career. During my internship life, I started actively searching for public health study options. Luckily, I found Zillur Rahman, a brilliant engineer and public health professional, in the third batch. I have known him since my school days. I still remember what he said that helped me decide in favor of BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH), "If you go to Harvard, you will only find the best teachers of Harvard teaching you. If you go to Hopkins, you will be taught only by the best Hopkins teachers. But if you join BRAC JPGSPH, you will find the best teachers of the best public health schools around the globe."
Another reason I chose BRAC JPGSPH was DrShahaduz Zaman, who inspired me through his writings. Since my medical college days, he was the living example of how a 'doctor' can break the limits of clinical medicine and be a fiction writer, film critic, anthropologist, and public health professional--all at the same time. He was the MPH course coordinator of BRAC JPGSPH, and this alone would suffice for me to fall for BRAC JPGSPH.
The one year at BRAC JPGSPH not only educated me but also transformed me. All the courses were designed based on the principles of experiential learning. We were all taken to the BRAC's Savar Training and Resource Center (TARC) during the first six months. Every student was given a bicycle. Even a burqa- and hijab-wearing student among us, who reportedly never rode a bicycle before, overcame the barrier of her inexperience and inconvenience and accompanied us to the Kakabo village, our 'social laboratory' for public health learning. Whatever we learned in class, we would go to the field to check it up with real life. For example, the day we learned about sanitation practices, we were assigned an observation exercise the next day. We took our bicycle even before the sun was up and went to the Kakabo village just to observe (and not talk with anyone) and present what we saw firsthand regarding their sanitation practices and challenges.
I like to particularly highlight two modules that had the greatest impact on me. The first one was the 'Introduction to Public Health' and the second one 'Anthropological Approaches to Public Health and Qualitative Research Methods.' In the Introduction to Public Health, I met one of the greatest public health minds of our time, the winner of the acclaimed King Mahidol Award, Dr. Richard Cash. His name is part of history owing to his contribution to the legendary field trial of the oral rehydration solution (ORS). As I came from a highly hierarchical background of a medical college, my surprise knew no bounds finding such a humble and friendly personality in him. In that course, I also met Dr. Alayne Adams, another celebrated teacher of the famous Columbia University (currently at McGill University), who became a lifelong mentor.
I cannot forget our first day, when another famous teacher, Dr Stephen Luby (currently a faculty of Stanford University), led us to a group project with visiting US students to define 'public health.' The whole experience changed my outlook towards public health from scratch. In the medical college, we were forced to 'memorize' the definition of public health, while now we were asked to 'define' it based on our existing understanding, and that on the first day of our MPH course!
In the Anthropological Approaches to Public Health and Qualitative Research Methods module, we got Dr Shahaduz Zaman and another world-renowned professor of medical anthropology, the Dean of Amsterdam Masters of Medical Anthropology program, Professor Sjaak van der Geest. Their lectures were the best experiences I have ever had in my whole educational career. Every lecture came up with newer concepts, provoked me to question my preconceived ideas and beliefs, and transformed me drip by drip into a new person. Among all those exciting lectures and engaging and life-changing pedagogic approaches, I particularly remember one. The teachers instructed us to roam around the TARC wearing imaginary social lenses--two groups with the gender lens and two with the social hierarchy lens. When we presented our findings to the class, to our utter surprise, we all realized how our social values and norms paint the way we tend to see our surrounding, without even realizing. I can confidently say, completing that module was a defining moment in my 'life' (not just my 'career'); the person that I was before starting the module and the person I became after completing the module were two different persons.
The BRAC JPGSPH's MPH course transformed me as a person, and that transformation was reflected in my career as a public health professional. I learned the essential skills and competencies to apply in a real-life setting and learned how to communicate my learnings and understandings fearlessly in front of a learned audience. BRAC JPGSPH turned me, and I believe all my fellow classmates, into critical thinkers and lifelong learners. It taught me to respect everyone's culture (BRAC JPGSPH has a multicultural, multinational student body drawing from almost all the continents). It empowered me to ask questions 'mercilessly,' criticize unfounded assumptions 'brutally,' and at the same time accept my own faults 'humbly.' In short, BRAC JPGSPH has made me the person I am today.
The author is International Consultant, Health Workforce, World Health Organization.