“Think big, embrace research, and be tenacious.” Dr. Roger Glass to the MGHD Class of 2018

Dr. Roger Glass
Dr. Roger Glass addresses graduates in the Master of Science in Global Health Delivery Class of 2018. Photo by Jean Christophe Kitoko for UGHE.

On June 3, 2018, UGHE celebrated the Commencement of the Master of Science in Global Health Delivery Class of 2018. Throughout the event, Rwanda’s Honorable Minister of Education and distinguished leaders in global health and academia celebrated the achievements of the graduates as they ushered them into their next role–global health leaders.

In his Commencement address to the MGHD Class of 2018, transcribed below, keynote speaker Dr. Roger I. Glass, Director of the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center (FIC), urged students to use the knowledge and skills they acquired in the MGHD program to respond to the pressing global challenges of our time and reduce inequity in health delivery.

Dr. Glass’ speech has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Welcome, this second class of graduates–this pride of young Lions from the University of Global Health Equity. You have worked hard to get here; to gain the competency and skills needed to meet the health challenges of tomorrow. This is a day for us to celebrate and to remember that for those to whom much is given, much is expected. We expect, and indeed we are confident, that we can count on you to deliver great improvements in global health for Rwanda and beyond.

You have been trained in this country that has emerged from a troubled past to overachieve, to set out on a new and better road, to be more equitable and caring of others, and to invest in education, in health care, in technology, and in research. You have been imbued with social values that will guide your future, and trained at this new University that prides itself in having the term “equity” in its name. You live in a country where gender equity is visible at the highest levels of government, and where equity for all is a mantra for future peace. Many of you have studied while you worked, commuting miles to attend classes. You come from a diversity of backgrounds, and from disciplines that will be required to improve the health of the communities where you will serve. From today, you have the skills to be changemakers, innovators, implementers, and leaders. The future is ever changing and doing so at an accelerating pace. …

… Rwanda has embraced research, change, innovation in your health system, ICT, eLearning, the use of drones in health care, new technologies and more. This country is among the small group of countries that has achieved the MDGs, that has achieved the longest life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa, that has achieved nearly universal immunization of children and universal health coverage with insurance, and that is introducing electronic medical records that is the platform for research to improve care. With all of these advances, your careers have the opportunity to change the world while improving health care for all.

Now that you have graduated, you have completed some amazing capstone projects, what will you do next? What does the future have in store for you? Where will you find the most exciting opportunities to make a big difference, to make your own mark in the future? 

When I graduated from Harvard with degrees in medicine and public health, I didn’t have a clue of what I was going to do next. Yes, I had lots of new knowledge and some proud parents, but no clear direction and no idea on how to make good on these huge expectations. As I was sitting down at graduation, I asked the young man sitting next to me, “What are you going to do with your degree?” He smiled and responded audaciously, “I am going to save a million lives!” I looked at him and rolled my eyes in disbelief and then began to think about what we can do in public health–what you can do in public health with the tools we have today and will soon have tomorrow.

We could stop some forms of cancer—like cervical cancer with HPV vaccines. We could prevent deaths from smoking, the most common environmental hazard. We could ensure that no one dies of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or diarrhea. We could ensure that all babies have a safe delivery and that mothers don’t die in childbirth. We could ensure the safety of our societies from new pandemic diseases like Ebola, Marburg, influenza, and more. We could address the stigma associated with so many diseases and mental illnesses. And, we could join the challenge to figure out how to provide access to medical and health care to all people including the most vulnerable at reasonable cost.

Without good health, there is nothing. There are amazing challenges all around us, challenges that you will be able to address, problems you can solve, solutions you can create, just with the tools that could be in your hands. …

… So, some words of encouragement as you consider what to do next, and where to take your careers next.  

My first recommendation is to think big. You have a long life ahead of you and the problems that you will confront may not yet have been identified. The tools, drugs, or vaccines needed to address them may still be in development. Be open to new ideas, take chances, and seek opportunities. 

Second, embrace research. New ideas and their implementation come from research. Health is a knowledge-based endeavor and you must adapt to new discoveries that could change practice. New, long-acting HIV drugs, vaccines for certain diseases, new diagnostic tests, new ways to deliver drugs and medicines. You can be part of this change, and every new drug, diagnostic, or intervention opens a new chapter in the book of change, of hope. 

Third, be tenacious. Life’s path is full of hurdles, obstacles, and failures! I certainly had quite a number of disasters along my career path. When we launched the first rotavirus vaccine 20 years ago, a rare adverse event was identified that led to the removal of this product. Fifteen years of research went down the drain. But with time, thought, and lots of help, we were able to pick up the program and succeed against all odds. The delight of addressing the problem and the ultimate success makes one forget all those bad and difficult times. Getting up, recovering from disaster will mature you, encourage you, and make you stronger.

Finally, seek out outstanding mentors along the way.  This school has some brilliant thinkers who have provided a unique environment for you to learn using a novel approach.  Both Drs. Paul Farmer and Agnes Binagwaho have had extraordinary careers in global health.  You are learning from the best and, as I look back, it has been the mentors who I have had who have contributed so much to my career, to helping me when I failed, and shored me up when I was seeking solutions for some really tough problems. This school will be here for you and you will contribute to its future through your work and continuing engagement.

I hope you will all go forward with your careers, thinking big and making a difference in the communities where you work and serve. The future is yours to build and no problem is too big to focus your talents on at this stage.

Congratulations to this second graduating class of the University of Global Health Equity, to the Lions and leaders of the future in health!