Dr. Kurt Figueroa is a student at the University of Global Health Equity, a Partners In Health institution that launched in 2015 and trains health professionals in Rwanda how to manage the challenges of providing health care in poor places. He and his fellow students—who are nurses, clinicians, psychologists, and other health experts—will come away with a two-year Master of Science degree in Global Health Delivery.
Unlike most of his peers, Figueroa is not Rwandan. He moved from working at a small PIH clinic in the Sierra Madre mountains of Chiapas, Mexico—his home country—to a similarly remote hospital that PIH supports in Rwanda. When he’s not in class, he works at Butaro District Hospital as the oncology clinical officer.
Here he shares his experiences as a global health student and as a doctor providing care in the far reaches of Mexico and Rwanda.
What attracted you to the university?
I first heard about the University of Global Health Equity when they were accepting applications for the first group of students in 2015. At the time, student positions were only for people based in Rwanda. So I sent emails asking about the program and they said I needed to wait for one year, when they would probably open it for international students. So I waited and kept working in Mexico. After one year, I applied again, as well as to another program, and I was accepted to both.
What made me choose the University of Global Health Equity was that it was a two-year program, and also that it was another opportunity to work with the organization that helped me take my first steps in global health—PIH.
What skills and experiences are you gaining from the program?
Critical thinking and empathy. I have learned to assess patients’ situations in order to really understand what is going on with them—what are the main problems that they have—so I can give them the best attention.
Another skill that I have been developing in this course is research. I speak with my supervisor about many opportunities to research and improve the quality of care.
What makes the master’s program unique?
Having the opportunity to work with students from different disciplines. Some are pharmacists, nurses, agriculturists, and psychologists. Other colleagues are doctors. Receiving their perspectives about life and about how to deal with people and about leadership gives me a huge opportunity to improve myself.
The other thing is the high-quality faculty. Our professors are very well-known in global health. They have been working in many other universities and many other programs.
What are the classes like?
Classes at the University of Global Health Equity are highly interactive. It’s not only the professor giving the classes and students taking notes—it’s interaction.
Between asking questions and having pre-course tests and a lot of lectures, there is also the opportunity for discussion. We will give our own understanding of the topics, and they will guide us in the right way. We have the opportunity to interact with other professors by watching videos of them teaching classes at Harvard, for example. Or we have visiting professors that come from Tufts University, as well as Yale and Harvard.
The faculty includes directors of PIH country programs. Dr. Alex Coutinho is the executive director of PIH in Rwanda. He gives us lectures about the Rwandan health system, leads case studies, and tells us about his experiences. Also we have Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the former minister of health, and her years of experience highly enrich the learning experience.
Tell us about your day job at Butaro District Hospital.
I give general consultations to patients in oncology. Patients are referred to us by other hospitals or health centers when they are suspected to have cancer. My job is to address them and do all of the workup to see if they have a real oncology situation. Then I admit them for treatment. I also do rounds in the ward, discussing patients’ statuses, treating them, and following up on their care.
How has your job changed since you started studying at the university?
When I was in Mexico, I was a general physician with PIH, and at that time I was seeing cases ranging from hypertension and diabetes to infectious diseases and trauma. And it was in a small rural clinic. I was the only doctor. Now that I am working in Butaro District Hospital, I have a whole team. It’s not my team; we work together. And as we work together we are developing a lot more specialized care.
What are you going to do when you graduate after two years?
Global health for me is not a career; it’s a lifestyle. So I see myself working in global health settings. If I have the opportunity to stay here in Rwanda, I believe that I will do it. Maybe I’ll go back to my country because my people need me there. And it’s not only Chiapas and Rwanda—there are a lot of neglected poor communities all over the world. I see myself doing this anywhere.
The interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Applications for the Master of Science in Global Health Delivery open February 8, 2017. For more information or to apply to the program, visit www.ughe.org.