Before reaching her current position of Field Coordinator with Doctors Without Borders, Karin Huster was a Registered Nurse and an MPH student at the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health. Working alongside professors , Huster gathered a multitude of skills that she’s used to advance her career. In addition to her wide-ranging field work, Huster is a regular writer and contributor to radio shows and podcasts. She recently published an op-ed piece in the New York Times. On Tuesday, May 14 at 4:00 p.m., Huster will be on campus as part of DGH Career Week, giving her lecture titled Ebola in a War Zone: A Deadly Mix.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your time in the global health field?
A: Many people go into Global Health for the attraction of going abroad and working on disease outbreaks, using new technologies, solving the world’s health problems — that seems pretty sexy. What I’ve learned is that you don’t need to get out of the United States—let alone Washington—to do work that has a global impact. You can go to Eastern Washington, you can go to the border with Mexico, you can go into poor suburbs of Detroit. You will find many, many issues and inequalities that have a global impact and are being ignored for the large part.
Q: What do you remember most about your time at the University of Washington, and how did it prepare you for your career?
A: During my MPH years, Professor Steve Gloyd was really the spark for what I’m doing now. His class spanned a wide range of topics, but it highlighted what matters, and how to make a difference. He made us do a lot of writing. That was when I started thinking about using writing as a tool for advocacy of global health issues. It’s been inspired by Steve Gloyd and Stephen Bezruchka, both of whom I have much respect for at UW in the Department of Global Health.
I graduated from nursing school in 2005, then worked at Harborview Medical Center for 10 years. I decided to go back to school to get my Master’s in Public Health from the Department of Global Health. I graduated in 2013 with my MPH and from there I had an internship to do my thesis on Syrian refugees. That kind of sparked the work I did from then on. It’s been mostly working in the field – initially with different organizations like Partners in Health or the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). Now, I am full-time with Doctors Without Borders.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work, or the thing that stands out the most?
A: I often am reminded of what an MSF colleague said when talking about what we love most about our work. This is what he said: “In an extreme or large-scale emergency situation, there is no standard response. There are no solutions described in the guidelines. The magical aspect of major emergencies is at that level. It gives free reign to anyone in the field to create something, to act. There is this magic to want and to be able to innovate at any cost. To create, carry out research, implement new tools, new approaches. (…) And it’s all those personal initiatives in the field put together that creates this magic.” He couldn’t have summarized it better for me.
Q: What would be your advice for current DGH students?
A: Often in my work we aim to use new technologies like rapid diagnostics, new vaccines, new treatments for diseases. These are really pushed to the forefront. We have a tendency to forget that we need to have the basics down before we move to big technologies. There are often solutions, and most of the solutions that work the best are very basic interventions. For example with Ebola—and I’ll talk about this during the lecture—it’s engaging with communities and talking with people. That’s more important than the treatments we have available for them. Because if you don’t talk to people and build trust, they won’t come to get your fancy treatments and they won’t agree to vaccination. It’s always simpler, and less sexy, but low-tech solutions are often better. That’s good for students to keep in the back of their minds, or really, at the front of their minds.