Trends in Global Health: Mentorship and Human Capital

HVO’s Deputy Director Beth MacNairn authored this installment of our Trends in Global Health series on the importance of mentorship and human capital. View other posts in this series here. Have an idea for an article on an emerging trend in the global health sector? Contact HVO’s Communications Coordinator Nora Daly.

When I reflect on my own education and professional experiences, I am struck by how often a mentor stepped in to guide me, offer opportunities and encouragement, or simply serve as a role model. Some of my mentors are lifelong connections, while others stepped in for only a brief moment, but all had lasting impact.

HVO’s model – built on thoughtful partnerships to promote the education and training of the global health workforce – is fueled by powerful, multi-generational and bi-directional mentorship.

HVO’s incremental approach to health workforce capacity building recognizes that learning is life-long. New knowledge, techniques and technologies must be continuously integrated into the toolbox of health professionals, and ongoing mentorship is critical to clinician growth and motivation. We know that a health workforce is built one provider at a time – multiplied many times over – and that long-term investment in health care providers over the course of their careers is essential for sustained development of this scarce but essential human resource.

Although HVO’s approach is gradual and focused on long-term impact, it is also imbued with a sense of urgency, for we know that quality of life and life itself are at stake on a daily basis. From fragile newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit, to survivors of road traffic accidents, to late stage cancer patients, quality health care delivery relies on trained and motivated providers working in responsive, equitable, adequately funded and well-managed systems.

HVO addresses the complex global health challenges we collectively face by focusing on human capital and developing this vital resource. An excerpt from the 2019 World Bank World Development Report: The Changing Nature of Work, states the case thus:

“Human capital” – the potential of individuals – is going to be the most important long-term investment any country can make for its people’s future prosperity and quality of life.

World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim speaks of “a fierce sense of urgency” in making the case for the Bank’s Human Capital Project. HVO volunteers and leaders – whether they are based in California or Kampot – are motivated by a similar sense of urgency to create and foster equitable health systems equipped to provide compassionate care to all.

A quality lecture, an interesting query to stimulate critical thinking on rounds, a demonstration of a new technique, a word of encouragement, or an email exchange between professionals – this is the heart of HVO’s mentorship model. Whether we label these exchanges human capital development or, more simply, a successful volunteer assignment, this is how we transform lives. Maybe we should stop more often to reflect on the impact of the mentors in our lives and our own potential to mentor others.

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