Q&A with Mitch Kimber, MPH Candidate in Global Health, Humanitarian Health Initiative Intern
We at Research, Innovation and Global Solutions, interviewed Mitch Kimber about his professional experience before Gillings, his work as a Humanitarian Health Intern, his upcoming MPH practicum with UNC Project-Malawi, and why he chose Gillings.
What was your background before enrolling in the MPH program?
When I first went to undergrad, my career goal was to make major improvements in cancer treatment and outcomes. I studied biochemistry and ended up assisting in a cancer research laboratory. I also completed a 9-month experiential learning “Co-Op” experience at a major pharmaceutical company. I’m grateful for the understanding of research methods and the perspective this work gave me. I realized, however, that I did not want to work at a lab bench and did not understand why the pharmaceutical industry made such large profits, if the goal was to help people. Around that time, I also gained a deeper understanding of the systemic causes of health inequities throughout the U.S. Learning about these inequities allowed me to reflect on how members of my own community faced barriers to accessing support when experiencing challenges such as homelessness and severe mental illness.
I considered going straight into an MPH program at that time but also had interest in gaining clinical skills. I worked as an Emergency Medical Technician in Boston, MA and decided to do an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing there. In nursing school, I took my first global health trip, to Shenzhen, China, and also went to Washington DC for a Student Policy Summit. I remained interested in addressing domestic public health issues, including hosting the Boston Public Health Commission for an overdose prevention training on campus, but also became much more interested in global health as I learned about how colonialism and systemic racism have led to health inequities around the world. After graduating, I moved to North Carolina to work as a nurse at Duke University Hospital – first in the Pediatric ICU and then the Emergency Department. When I started at Gillings, I also began an internship with the Humanitarian Health Initiative and as Clinical Faculty in the School of Nursing.
Could you tell us about your role as a Humanitarian Health Intern?
My primary role is working with Professor Sheila Leatherman to support an NGO as they expand medical service offerings in a humanitarian setting. We are attempting to support data collection and analysis as their staff provide care, so that the organization can report the important work they do in hopes of receiving more funding. Longer-term, I will act in more of a Health Advisor role as the data helps us to understand what the biggest unmet needs are and we will support the organization to fill those gaps while providing the highest quality of care possible. As is the nature of global health and humanitarian work, we’ll remain flexible and adapt to changing needs to serve the NGO the most effective way we can as they continue to expand their services. Aside from that service project, I am very interested in working with Professor Leatherman, the other interns, and faculty advisors to continue to grow the Humanitarian Health Initiative so that we can have a more broad reach – locally and globally.
Will you tell us about your role as a Clinical Instructor for: NURS 484 – Public Health Nursing in Community Settings?
I was grateful to be offered a position as Clinical Faculty for this year in NURS484. In the fall and spring semesters, I have supervised groups of eight Bachelor’s of Nursing students one day each week at sites in the community, including low-income congregate housing for older adults and the UNC COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites. With each group, I have created curriculum materials about public health concepts, led them through Community Health Assessments at our sites, and advised while they write a paper related to one potential intervention relevant to the findings of our assessment. This has been an amazing experience for me to learn from the students, from community partners, and from faculty in the School of Nursing. I definitely want to continue teaching in some context throughout my career so am grateful that I was able to do this while also pursuing my MPH.
Can you tell us about your MPH practicum this summer?
For my practicum this summer, I will be traveling to Lilongwe, Malawi for eight weeks to work with UNC Project-Malawi. UNC Project was formally established there in 1999 with the aim of improving health in Malawi through research, clinical care and capacity building. I will specifically be supporting collaboration of the UNC School of Nursing with UNC Project and their main sites including Kamuzu Central Hospital and the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences. A needs assessment identified specialized training for nurses as an area for increased capacity, including in oncology care. I will design training modules and a Grand Rounds lecture relevant to the specialized training I have received in critical care. Additionally, a qualitative study was initiated, and I will assist with data analysis and reporting.
A bigger-picture learning objective is related to health systems strengthening, specifically workforce strengthening, in low- and middle-income countries. This is important to me because I’ve personally felt the pressures of health workforce shortages in the U.S. I think many people have heard about the “nursing shortage” here, but I recognize the effects of shortages are much more acute in other parts of the world. Specifically, the World Bank reported that in 2018 Malawi had 0.4 nurses/midwives per 1,000 people compared to 15.7 per 1,000 in the U.S. To address needs like this, the World Health Organization has estimated a projected need for 18 million more health workers by 2030. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work in Lilongwe, and hope it is a step toward me supporting the global health workforce – increasing both the quantity of health workers and the quality of care they provide.
What does “global health” mean to you?
To me, global health and public health are one in the same. I also feel strongly that those fields and nursing have a lot of overlap. They all focus on taking wholistic approaches to improving health. By this I mean looking at all of the social, systemic, economic, environmental, policy, and other characteristics which shape health outcomes. Another key factor in these fields is finding ways to work collaboratively across disciplines and across boundaries to address root causes.
What drew you to the Gillings School of Global Public Health?
When I moved to North Carolina for work, I knew that the Triangle area could be my home for a long time because of the top-tier academic institutions and opportunities to influence health both globally and domestically. I further was interested in Gillings because I appreciate how, being at a public university, it feels more accessible to a broader range of students who may otherwise face larger financial burdens attending a private university. I think that education should always be accessible and I feel that Gillings promotes this with their work in local communities and their acceptance of students and faculty from around the globe.
What is your dream job?
Another reason I chose to do my MPH at Gillings is that I knew I wanted a two-year program so that I would have time to explore many interests and determine how best to start my career in public health. Throughout this first year, my goals have changed slightly but my primary interests remain the same, including humanitarian response, disaster risk reduction, and health system strengthening. I look forward to working with organizations of all sizes throughout my career, but as of now would say my dream job is with an international organization such as MSF (Doctors Without Borders) or a UN organization such as the WHO.
What is your all-time favorite piece of furniture and why?
I love working with my hands, so am always happy to help assemble furniture with friends and family so I appreciate this question. If I had to choose one piece, I would say bunk beds. This is because growing up, we had bunk beds so I relate them to good memories, but also because they are so practical! I appreciate the efficient use of space. Also, I love hiking and rock climbing so don’t mind climbing up to the top bunk.