Founded in 1987 by Dr. Steve Gloyd, the University of Washington Department of Global Health Master of Public Health (MPH) program is one of the premier global health programs in the world, offering a unique combination of scholarship and activism.
After thirty-four years, Gloyd, a professor of Global Health and Health Services, stepped down as program director effective July 1, 2021. He is succeeded by Deepa Rao, a professor of Global Health and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and the current interim senior associate dean of the School of Public Health (SPH) who served as associate program director alongside Gloyd for eight years.
Gloyd will remain on as associate director for at least one year to help transfer responsibilities.
For Gloyd, Rao was an easy choice as successor, not just for her expertise and familiarity with the program, but for her ability to engage with students in a way that is sensitive, supportive, and challenging.
“Deepa and I share a lot of values and approaches for the program that make me feel like the spirit of the MPH program will continue to blossom,” said Gloyd. “Her heart and soul are into issues around fairness and justice in global health.”
Rao earned an M.A. in Social Science from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology. She joined the UW Department of Global Health (DGH) in 2009, where she serves as the associate director of the Global Mental Health program with a research focus on the development, implementation, integration, and scale of mental health services and stigma reduction worldwide.
From 2010 to 2014, Rao served on the SPH Diversity Task Force, which became the SPH Diversity Committee, taking the role of the faculty subcommittee chair. In 2013, she founded and served as the inaugural chair of the DGH Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and is currently collaborating on the workgroup for a pilot program to bring non-police options for response to acute mental distress on campus.
Rao said her commitment to social justice comes largely from her own experience moving through the world, living and working in her home country of India, and understanding that she does not have the same lived experience as others.
“In academia, particularly in global health, we need to learn from the lived experience of students much more than we do,” said Rao. “Each student has a beautiful and unique story to tell, and they come from so many different walks of life. They are so innovative and come up with these brilliant ideas that can help to improve population health. We must prioritize and honor student voices in our classrooms, research, and practice.”
From the beginning, the MPH program was designed to challenge students, faculty, and staff to question their assumptions, critically examine development theories, and explore the overlap between their desire to do good and their complicity in creating the problems they’re trying to address.
“Part of our work is trying to identify problems and deal with them. But a big part of the work is understanding some of the drivers of those problems, particularly the social determinants of health and how those social determinants were not natural but came about from oppressive structures,” said Gloyd.
Gloyd’s passion for pushing the envelope was heavily influenced by his days as a medical student at the University of Chicago during the height of the Vietnam War. Fueled by his trademark combination of enthusiasm and outrage, he led a student group that closed down his medical school to engage in advocacy in response to U.S. military activity in Southeast Asia.
After completing his medical residency in Seattle, he got a contract with the newly independent government of Mozambique to work as a physician within the Ministry of Health, where he witnessed firsthand the negative effects of Apartheid South Africa’s attacks on Mozambique’s Primary Health Care system. Four years later, he returned to the United States to complete an MPH in Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Back in Seattle, Gloyd was hired as a part-time lecturer by SPH Dean Gil Omenn in 1985 to complete efforts already underway to create a joint master’s degree with the Jackson School of International Studies. During that process, he successfully argued for the creation of a separate, additional program – an International Health Program MPH track, offered jointly by the Departments of Epidemiology and Health Services and informed by his experiences as an activist and global health worker.
The program started small, with only two students in the first graduating class. Gloyd slowly built up visibility and support for both the program and global health through campus events, including a weeklong seminar featuring presentations from twenty different African health leaders and a university-wide symposium on achieving Health for All as part of the UW 150th anniversary celebration.
Gloyd also created Health Alliance International (HAI), a non-profit organization supporting Ministries of Health in Mozambique, Timor Leste, and Cote d’Ivoire, and dedicated to health justice and equity. Over the ensuing decades, HAI’s staff, faculty, and overseas partners made enormous contributions to the MPH program.
The number of students entering the program steadily increased throughout the 90s. By 2000, student interest in global health had grown so much that Gloyd was asked by Patricia Wahl, then dean of SPH, to co-lead a strategic advisory committee with Professor King Holmes tasked with providing a vision for the future of global health at UW. Those efforts provided the basis for the Department of Global Health, which was founded in 2007 by the Schools of Public Health and Medicine. Gloyd became the first associate chair for education & curriculum, and the International Health Program became the current Department of Global Health Master of Public Health program, with Gloyd continuing on in the role of director.
Since its inception, the program has graduated more than 700 students, including 48 students in 2021. Reflecting back on three decades of leadership, Gloyd said he’s proud of the way graduates of the program – including four foreign ministers of health – have gone on to change global health narratives and policies, and positively impact people’s lives.
“I’m really proud of our MPH program, especially our committed staff and faculty, and the students who challenge us. They have been the heart and soul of the program for years. We’ve created a community that continues to question conventional wisdom, to look beyond the classic, romanticized vision of global health that makes us feel good even if we are part of the problem, and to examine how we can address the causes of injustice, wherever we’re from,” said Gloyd, who hopes to expand this community further with the launch of a new website focused on global health justice.
Rao said Gloyd’s approach to teaching and community-building has been an inspiration to her, recalling a time when he stepped in to lead an impromptu two-hour class discussion with 150 students after a scheduled speaker fell through at the last minute.
“That moment was so powerful for me. I realized that you can move forward with a class session with no agenda and still learn something. You don't always have to teach with the same canned model of the PowerPoint slide lecture. Fabulous learning can happen with just some open space and people sharing their perspectives on an interesting topic,” said Rao.
While Rao anticipates the MPH program will evolve organically in response to changes both within and beyond the university, she said that, for the immediate future, she plans to maintain what’s already strong. This includes the cohort model that brings together diverse students from outside and inside the U.S and ‘Rethinking Global Health’, a student-led workshop taught by Rao and Ahoua Koné that provides an open forum to talk about issues of antiracism and de-colonization, through honest, and sometimes uncomfortable, discussions about privilege, positionality, and power differentials in global health.
“The biggest thing I want students to get out of the program, if I summed it up in two words, would be cultural humility,” said Rao. “I guess that's kind of the character of the whole program. That’s what Steve’s created that I want to continue.”