Alliance News

Global Health Career Panel

May 15, 2024



Navigating a Winding Path: Insights on Global Health Careers

The path to a career in global health is rarely straightforward. This theme emerged during a panel discussion hosted by Stanford University and the Bay Area Global Health Alliance on May 15. The event featured professionals from the Bay Area Global Health Alliance, Roche Diagnostics, PATH, Google, and Stanford, who shared their unique career journeys. Moderator Sara Anderson, and panelists Joanna Sickler, Neha Agarwal, Claudia Amar, and Cyan Brown came from diverse backgrounds in politics and advocacy, business, engineering, nursing, and medicine. Their diversity of experiences, education, and openness to new opportunities created distinct pathways for each panelist and the moderator to understand and plug into the broader global health ecosystem. As Sara Anderson highlighted, the panelists’ focus on the whole ecosystem and the multidisciplinary and multi-sector approach is needed [to address complex global health challenges], which is very much at the heart of the Bay Area Global Health Alliance and its theory of change. 

Perseverance and Strategic Planning

Joanna Sickler, vice president of health policy and external affairs at Roche Diagnostics, emphasized the importance of perseverance, especially in the early stages of one’s career. Some good advice she received early in her career? She advised, “No matter how unfairly you are being treated in your work environment, you show up every day and do the best job you can. In the background, you find a better situation so that when you leave, they’re really sorry.”

Neha Agarwal, co-director of the Global Diagnostics Program at PATH, highlighted the importance of building strong relationships with managers to foster growth and learning. “It is really important to establish a relationship with your manager where you can actually take some risks and put yourself into situations where you’re growing and learning,” she said. Agarwal also stressed the value of mentorship, suggesting that having a panel of mentors can provide diverse guidance and support. 

Embracing Non-Linear Career Paths

Claudia Amar, who works in product partnerships and strategy at Google Search, discussed the non-linear nature of careers. “Careers are not a linear progression … I would use the word zigzag,” she stated. Amar emphasized the importance of leveraging skills learned in various roles, viewing them as building blocks that enrich one’s professional narrative.

Cyan Brown, a health equity innovation postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, offered a clinician’s perspective. Struck by the statistic that 5 billion people lack access to safe surgery, Brown’s path led her to biodesign. “Global health and medicine provide a lens that we use to bring together our clinical skillset to help those who are most in need. There are a lot of creative and wonderful ways to do that,” she said.

Core Skills and Advanced Degrees

The panelists agreed that core skills like strategic decision-making, analytical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and emotional intelligence are crucial and transcend specific roles. When discussing the usefulness of advanced degrees, they generally agreed that while not mandatory, advanced degrees are valued and considered helpful in the sector. Cyan Brown noted that an MPH “really helped change the way I think fundamentally about just a system-level lens.”

Networking and Taking Risks

Networking and taking risks were additional key themes. Claudia Amar shared how informational conversations led to a role at Stanford after her move from Canada. Joanna Sickler urged the audience to apply for jobs even if they don’t meet all the listed qualifications, saying, “You’re not going to get the job if you don’t apply for it.”

Neha Agarwal advised against self-doubt when changing sectors, encouraging attendees to carry their positive impact with them and voice their opinions on how things could be done differently.

Embracing the Unpredictable

Ultimately, the panelists agreed that embracing the unpredictable nature of global health career paths is essential. Claudia Amar advised, “Follow your heart and your mind as you’re making decisions. If you feel there’s tension, then question why there’s tension.” As Neha Agarwal summarized, “Be patient, be open to the windiness, and most importantly, enjoy what you’re doing and balance it out with everything outside work.”

This insightful discussion underscored that while the path to a career in global health may be winding, it is also rich with opportunities for growth, learning, and making a meaningful impact.



About the panelists

Claudia Amar, Strategic Partnership Development, Google. In her position, Amar drives global partnership initiatives across Google Search, collaborating with leading global health providers, payers, government, NGOs, and startups on topics like access to high-quality, authoritative health information and care to support consumer health journeys. Previously, she was the pearheaded development of a GTM strategy and partnership ecosystem of innovative startups and biotech companies to enable access to reliable, large-scale COVID-19 testing for employers. Amar holds a Master’s in Healthcare Administration and a degree in Nursing Sciences from the

Cyan Brown, Health Equity Innovation Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University’s Byers Center for Biodesign. Brown is passionate about increasing access to quality healthcare, particularly for underserved populations, through innovation and systems strengthening. She is a health equity innovation postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Byers Center for Biodesign fellowship program, where she is focusing on developing health innovations to address unmet clinical needs and increase health equity. She trained as a medical doctor at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Thereafter she completed a Master’s degree in public health with a global health specialization through King’s College London, where her research focused on surgical innovation in low-and middle-income countries. She is an Atlantic Fellow at Tekano Health Equity, where her work focuses on the intersection of global health and collaborative leadership. She has been chosen as one of the top 200 young leaders in South Africa by the Mail and Guardian, serves on the Atlantic Institute Global Governing Board for health equity and is the founder of Women Leaders Planetary Health in South Africa. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, podcasts, scuba diving and good coffee.

Joanna Sickler, Vice-President, Health Policy & External Affairs, Roche Diagnostics. Sickler’s background spans diagnostic, pharmaceutical and non-governmental organizations with a focus on public health, implementation science and policy to optimize medical value. She has a passion for improving people’s lives through access to healthcare innovations. Previously, at Roche Diagnostics, Joanna was Senior Director, Medical Affairs, where she was responsible for developing and executing the point-of-care molecular global medical strategy and leading clinical impact studies across the molecular infectious disease portfolio. This included a heavy emphasis on respiratory tests and a focus on pandemic response to COVID-19. Previously, at Zyomyx, she led market access strategy, policy and the post-approval clinical study program to support the launch of the company’s first product, a point-of-care CD4 test for use in limited-resource settings. As part of the Access Program’s leadership team at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), Sickler developed models and led advocacy for global procurement interventions to ensure the sustainability of the children’s HIV drug market. She collaborated with ministries of health throughout Africa to support the HIV Guidelines revision process and assess the cost impact of changes. Sickler holds a Master’s in Public Health and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of California, Berkeley. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Wesleyan University.

Neha Agarwal, Global Diagnostics Program Co-Director, PATH. Agarwal is a passionate advocate for global health equity and approaches her work with a strong vision for sustainability, respectful collaborations, innovation, and analytical rigor. She has over 15 years of experience in global health and the life sciences. Agarwal is currently the Global Diagnostics Program Co-Director for PATH where she leads a team responsible for improving and ensuring equitable access to essential diagnostic products in resource-limited settings. She held previous global health roles at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and Applied Strategies. In her various roles, Agarwal has focused on bridging partnerships between industry, governments, and the nonprofit sector. Prior to her transition to global health, Agarwal’s career focused innovative product development at companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Verinata Health (now Illumina), earning her several patents for lab-on-chip and drug delivery technologies. Agarwal is passionate about utilizing the talent, scientific rigor, and innovative energy of the Bay Area to achieve health equity around the globe. Agarwal has several publications, holds four patents, and received her MS in biomedical engineering from Columbia University and her BS in bioengineering from University of California, Berkeley.

About the moderator

Sara Anderson, Executive Director, Bay Area Global Health Alliance. Sara is the first Executive Director of the Bay Area Global Health Alliance, growing the organization to more than 85+ members since 2020 and engaging the tech sector with traditional global health stakeholders. She has more than 30 years of experience in global health and international development advocacy, nonprofit management, partnership development, thought leadership and strategic communications. Prior to leading the Bay Area Global Health Alliance, she helped to lead advocacy efforts in pioneering movements, such as global surgery, bringing attention to the impact of debilitating burn injuries in low-income countries, and the famine in North Korea. Sara worked on Capitol Hill and for numerous campaigns and nonprofits, developing key USG policy strategy and partnerships to increase awareness, influence policy, and impact lives. Sara received her master’s degree from Georgetown University, and continued her education with Stanford’s Designing for Social Systems program and the Syracuse University Maxwell School’s Transnational NGO Leadership Institute program for NGO leaders. She also served as coach and partner of Stanford’s’s Design for Extreme Affordability program.