2019 - Building an understanding of global health delivery: an Interview with Sheila Klassen:

September 11, 2019
Sheila Klassen

Sheila Klassen is a cardiovascular fellow in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.


What brought you to your current position?
I had always been interested in global health and had wanted to pursue it in my career. I did my clinical training and ended up at Massachusetts General Hospital for my cardiac ultrasound (echocardiogram) training. There I heard about Gene Bukhman and that he had started this new cardiovascular program. It seemed like a good fit for me, so I talked to Gene and ended up in the program.

What do you hope to accomplish with your career?
A lot! I am hoping that there is a way for us to establish some stable type of cardiovascular care in low-resource settings, starting in Partners in Health sites where we will be working, but also across Africa. So I don’t want to say we are aiming to establish care, ‘worldwide,’ but that’s the hope! At least basic cardiovascular and NCD care in low-resource settings is what I hope my contribution will be.

Why did you decide to apply to GHDI?
It was part of the requirements for the fellowship because they felt it was a great initiation to concepts in global health for their fellows. I didn’t know much about it before I started.

What’s the experience been like?
Amazing! It was beyond anything that I expected. I had wanted to build an understanding of global health delivery as part of the fellowship in general and how to better deliver health care.  I had worked on a few projects in the past, mostly in Guyana, and really struggled with a team that had never done global health delivery either and we ran into a lot of barriers and frustrations and didn’t know how to do things well. In retrospect, there were a lot of things that we talked about in the course that we kind of discovered along the way in Guyana and also a lot of things that we did that were not best practices. But, that was the impetus for wanting a global health fellowship and mentoring and training, learning how to do this properly. I got an awesome framework from the course on how to approach global health, various skills I can apply, ways to approach program development, and learned from the experiences of other people. Hearing all the strategies that others have employed—from the cases or my classmates—was really valuable.

What advice would you give someone just starting in this field?
One of the most important things is to keep an open mind. We often come into global health with our ideas of what global health is, what we can do. Successful projects, the ones that have worked best, have been creative and adaptive and changed according to the setting that they are in.  Keeping an open mind as to what is needed in the particular context you are working in and what you can contribute within that context is important, especially earlier in your career. And also finding a good network and finding good mentorship is really important. Having the experiences of people who live it or who have done it before is so valuable in shaping your own course in global health delivery.