Global Health Focus Grows at Harvard

From South America to Sever Hall, Tracy T. Han ’11 has synthesized her interest in the sprawling field of global health into a comprehensive four-year plan of study.

“Global health as a field is incredibly interdisciplinary,” Han says. “One of the problems that people find is that global health is this hodgepodge of topics. I’m trying to stick it all together.”

In the past few years, global health has become an increasingly popular topic of study on a national scale. As evidenced by a growing number of global health-related courses and organizations, Harvard is no exception to this trend, though no academic concentration in the field is available.

From working on frog leg regeneration in Chile, to examining water project pilot protocols in the Dominican Republic, to studying rural Chinese medicine, Harvard undergraduates interested in global health issues are devising their own ways to delve into the field—even in the absence of an institutionalized department.

These students say they have used their creativity and initiative to gain theoretical and practical understandings of global health in order to make contributions to the field.



Inspired by her freshman seminar on child health in America, Han worked to design a special concentration in global health, supplementing it with courses in sociology.

Midway through her sophomore year—shortly after declaring her special concentration—Han left Harvard to further pursue this interest, spending four months of spring 2009 in Bangladesh, where she helped develop a pilot protocol for ridding water of arsenic and bacteria.

The experiences “got me to see public health working in another country,” Han says, adding that she was able to see “the application of what she had been learning” term-time.

Like Han, Michael T. Henderson ’11 also created his own special concentration. After taking Harvard Medical School Professor Paul Farmer’s class on global health the fall of his sophomore year, Henderson says that he “couldn’t get enough.”

By the following term, Henderson had decided not to concentrate in human and evolutionary biology. This semester, he created his own junior tutorial, which was taught by Patrick T. Lee, a clinical instructor in medicine at HMS.

Henderson emphasizes the human dimension of his global health coursework and research.

For whatever region of the world he focuses on, Henderson says that he aims to “really [see] the society and the people in the culture, and [take] that in.”

Henderson adds that he practiced this objective last year in a self-designed study. Traveling to Peru and China, he researched the perception of illness between traditional and Western medicine.

But according to Henderson, he hasn’t created a path only for himself. Instead, he says he has worked on developing inclusive opportunities for students interested in global health. To that end, last fall Henderson founded The Harvard College Global Health Review, an undergraduate student publication that “aims to raise the levels of both scholarship and awareness in relation to issues within the realm of global health,” according to its website.