What is a health designer?
Aoife Kenny is not quite the typical person – she is a global citizen who has shared her passion for social justice across the world, combining her interests in health and design on projects from New Zealand to Africa.
GHG: Tell us about yourself.
I grew up mostly in New Zealand – all over the country – and also spent some time in Ireland (my parents are Irish). My early years had a few notable influences. We moved to Ireland when I was at the very impressionable age of 11, at this time I realized I wasn’t really a ‘Kiwi’ and not really ‘Irish’ either – some sort of global citizen. The other influence was a teacher and my Dad who were very passionate about social justice.
GHG: Why did you choose your career?
I chose to study medicine out of this social justice/global development yearning. And, to be honest, I saw some movie when I was 13 that showed doctors working in a Central American civil war – I thought it was the coolest thing ever and swiftly dropped my plan to become an architect (see below!)
GHG: Can you tell us about a seminal experience in your career?
So many! I had an interesting time a few years ago – I was in New York with my husband (who was studying) and working at an international women’s health advocacy organization. I really extended some ideas I had that just perhaps medicine isn’t the whole answer…Soon after I studied tropical medicine in London and that REALLY cemented these ideas. I went back to obstetrics and gynaecology in New Zealand, I loved it, but I needed more. Christchurch was post-earthquake at the time and the health facilities were undergoing huge rebuilding, and rethinking. I jumped on the opportunity. Long story short, soon after I was running design workshops and leading research pieces. Design and health? Yes!
GHG: Tell us about your current role.
This is a tricky one. Currently I am in Kigali, Rwanda. I have so far worked with the WHO and a healthcare architecture firm here. I am co-creating a new medical school course (the communication/ethics/etc stuff) and kicking off a teaching role. I am looking for opportunities to consult now – I never thought I’d say that by the way! A consultant…I always thought “over-paid, under-delivering and not really development professionals…” but my experiences so far have taught me a few things:
- I thrive on variety and very interdisciplinary teams;
- a good consultant is a fabulous asset to a project;
- and you have to earn some money – being the martyr is helping nobody.
GHG: How do you keep motivated to work in the field of global health?
How could you not!? Endless challenges and opportunities to be engrossed in amazing work!
GHG: What is the most essential piece of equipment for working abroad?
Calm approach, open mind, and good healthy coping strategies. You are going to be doing a LOT of adapting, and you need to know it’ll be tough wherever you are.
GHG: Give us a moment you’ve had working in global health that will make those of us still stuck at home envious of your lifestyle during this job.
We are driving to Burundi this weekend!
GHG: What are your tips for people interested in working in global health?
Talk to everyone you can, keep an open mind about what work you might do (a lot of it is computer work, FYI!) and when you get a chance JUMP IN.
PS. It’ll never be what you thought it’ll be, and the same frustrations you had at home might ‘follow you’. Remember this is not a way to run away (I see way too much of that).
GHG: Please recommend any interesting global health related websites that you particularly enjoy or would like to share.
Great worm lifecycles – seriously it’s super interesting.
And an awesome tropical medicine diploma – three months, amazing insights, life-long global friends.
Photos courtesy of Aoife Kenny – at the UNFPA week celebrations, representing WHO and Lake Kivu awesomeness.