Three Years, Five Countries, Three Continents: Global Health in the Classroom and on the Road

Chenxinan Ma
Class of 2023

“In the three years of my global health journey, I traveled across three continents and five countries. This journey enriched my knowledge, exposed me to diverse cultures, and helped me discover and improve myself. Every place I visited and every person I met provided me with new perspectives and insights. Health is a complex and multifaceted issue, and I hope to use what I have learned to advance global health and ensure health for all.”

-Chenxinan Ma, Class 2023 of the Master of Science in Global Health, Duke Kunshan University

Three years ago, as an undergraduate student who was about to graduate, I, like many others, weighed factors such as school rankings, curriculum, research capacity, and school facilities while considering my future career with the aim of making the best choice for myself. Duke Kunshan University (DKU)’s Master of Science in Global Health (MSc-GH) seemed to meet all these criteria I have considered. Nevertheless, at that time, I did not have a definitive answer for this choice but now, I believe that I have made the best decision for myself. What attracted me even more to this program was the opportunity to conduct field research around the world. I wanted a classroom without boundaries and I made it.

at Duke University, U.S.

In the Classroom

This 2-year journey began at DKU, Kunshan, China.

While my undergraduate education in Public Health focused primarily on China, the courses at DKU allowed me to view previous and current health challenges from a broader perspective. These challenges require the collaboration and effort of various stakeholders from different countries to address.

The core and elective courses at both DKU in China and Duke University in the U.S. strengthened my knowledge of global health theories and frameworks and my skills in qualitative and quantitative research techniques. Particularly, the Qualitative Data Analysis course taught by Jennifer Headley at Duke University was instrumental. Ms. Headley offered a 1-to-1 consultation with each student and guided us through the entire process of qualitative data analysis, from creating codebooks to using NVivo software and writing and presenting qualitative data analysis results. These skills are invaluable for my current PhD research project.

at Duke Kunshan University, China

As the teaching language at DKU is English, I, a non-native speaker, spent extra time improving my English communication and writing skills. The good thing is that the language instructors at DKU have helped so many students whose mother tongue is not English and hence, they understand the common language issues those students are experiencing and offer super helpful ways for them to fix these issues.  I am especially grateful to Chris Tebbe from the DKU Language and Culture Center, whose writing tutorials helped me express my ideas more precisely and authentically.

In the Field

The fieldwork research projects during my master’s program were what I anticipated the most. Soon after enrollment, each student began discussing and determining their fieldwork research topics with professors, aligning with their interests and future career aspirations.

doing internship at the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

I have always been interested in the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases (NCD). Although I was not able to participate in research projects on one NCD project due to various reasons, the faculty at the Global Health Research Center put significant effort into finding a suitable project for me.

I was fortunate to join the Clergy Health Initiative led by Professor Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell from Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University. This project involved health interventions and a longitudinal study tracking a cohort of clergy for over ten years. My research focused on the impact of obesity and depression on the quality of life among clergy, enhancing my skills in quantitative data analysis and questionnaire development.

Additionally, I participated in one of the Duke Bass Connections global health research projects, leading a team in a hypertension control project among African Americans in Durham. We contacted patients weekly, informed them about the chance of getting free blood pressure monitors, and educated them on home blood pressure monitoring and making lifestyle changes. This research also emphasized social determinants of health, highlighting the connection between health and factors such as relationships, family, and economic status, which further advanced my understanding that health is a multifaceted issue.

In the summer of 2023, I was selected for the Duke Global Policy Program in Geneva. During my nearly three-month internship at the International Organization for Migration, I assisted in providing health assessment services for refugees and migrants and updating the health screening requirements set by countries that host refugees and migrants.

The Project leader Gavin Yamey awarded certificate to Ma Chenxinan

Living and working in Geneva, I witnessed firsthand the impact of regional disasters and conflicts on public health, participated in the 76th World Health Assembly and several international health events, and engaged in in-depth discussions with researchers and professionals from various international organizations on global health challenges.

at the World Heart Summit, May 2023

On the Road

What is the best health intervention? How can health policies be translated from evidence-based medicine into evidence-based actions while balancing benefits and risks?

These reflections stemmed from my travels in Thailand in early 2023 after my fall semester at Duke University in 2022. The recent legalization of cannabis contrasted sharply with Thailand’s long-standing tobacco control policies and restrictions on alcohol sales. Each country’s government must balance various factors and interests when formulating public health policies. While I do not have all the answers yet, I know I am on a path of exploration.

The Next Journey

In the fall of 2023, I began my PhD studies in Integrated Biology and Medicine at Duke-NUS Medical School. This marked a new chapter in my academic journey in global health. Completing my first year of doctoral studies, I realize that each step in preparing my dissertation requires meticulous effort to meet the rigorous expectations of my PhD thesis mentor and Thesis Advisory Committee members. The solid foundation laid during my studies at DKU and Duke University significantly advanced my doctoral research progress. The guidance in research design from Professor Lijing Yan, the knowledge in epidemiology and biostatistics from Professor Chenkai Wu, the qualitative research and analysis methods taught by Professor Qian Long and Jennifer Headley, and other essential global health knowledge taught by DKU and Duke University’s instructors continue to support my doctoral research.

at the Duke-NUS Medical School

This invaluable experience at DKU not only enriched my knowledge base in global health but also honed my independent thinking and problem-solving skills. Compared to my undergraduate studies focused on public health issues within China, my education at DKU broadened my perspective on global health issues. Understanding the complexity and diversity of health problems and recognizing the importance and urgency of addressing these issues on a global scale have been crucial.

The research experience and interdisciplinary knowledge gained at DKU and Duke University enable me to comprehensively analyze global health challenges. These experiences motivate me to continue exploring and innovating in my future research, contributing to the advancement of global health. I look forward to more field research opportunities, like those at DKU, to further contribute to global health research and practice.