Claire Panosian Dunavan,
MD, FIDSA, DTM&H (London)
UCLA School of Medicine
Division of Infectious Diseases
10833 Le Conte Ave, CHS 37-121
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1688

Division office: 310-825-7225
Voicemail: 310-794-6053
Facsimile: 310-825-3632

The New Medical “Missionaries” – Grooming the Next Generation of Global Health Workers

New England Journal Of Medicine, April 2006

Noelle Benzekri is a first-year medical student with a mission. Even before the 27-year-old New York native spent a year as a clinic assistant and polio vaccinateur in Senegal, she knew that global health was her calling. “It’s the reason I decided to go to medical school,” the former philosophy major acknowledged at a recent meeting of our journal club on global health at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Spurred by memories of her African patients, Benzekri intends to return to Africa someday to train local health workers to deliver care to the poorest of the poor.

The journal club has become a magnet for UCLA students, trainees, and faculty members who share Benzekri’s hopes for greater global equity in health. Many attendees have already worked overseas; others have contributed domestically and now wish to apply their skills and experience abroad. All are hungry to discuss diseases of poverty as well as international policy and aid programs. In the curricula at most medical schools and postgraduate institutions in the United States, these topics receive little time and attention. A new generation of activists could change that.

Take, for example, Sue Tuddenham, a classmate of Benzekri’s and a journal-club member. After graduating from Yale, she completed a degree in international relations at the London School of Economics, worked in the Hanoi office of the Population Council, and then took a job with the International Trachoma Initiative evaluating trachoma-control programs in Niger, Tanzania, and Vietnam. During her first week of medical school, she was already seeking mentors for a career in global health policy. Tuddenham and Benzekri have organized a series of lectures on global health at UCLA.

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Claire Panosian Dunavan, MD, DTM&H (London), 2008 President of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, received her education at Stanford University, Northwestern Medical School, Tufts-New England Medical Center, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. First as Chief of Infectious Diseases at LA County-Olive View Medical Center, then as Director of Travel and Tropical Medicine at UCLA, she has been a UCLA professor, clinician, and teacher since 1984. She has also worked overseas in Haiti, Taiwan, the Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Albania, Armenia, and Tanzania, among other countries.

Dunavan’s second career as a print and broadcast journalist includes 6 years as a medical editor, reporter, and co-anchor for Lifetime Television. In 1997, her interview with a dying physician won an international “Freddie” Award. In 2000, with her husband Patrick Dunavan—an 8-time Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker —she produced a television program on hepatitis B which has reached 300 million international viewers. In recent years, she has written regularly for national newspapers and magazines. She currently writes a weekly column called “The Infection Files” which runs in California newspapers. Her journalism spans issues in infectious diseases and public health affecting everyone on the planet to global health policy and economics.

© 2010 Claire Panosian Dunavan