Adding Global Health Perspective to a Duke Education

Certificate program allows Duke graduate students to gain global health experience as they pursue their degrees.

Felicia Lim

Duke doctoral student Felicia Lim is pursuing a certificate in global health to add international perspective to her studies on cancer biology.

By Kiah Cheatham

Published May 25, 2021, last updated on June 9, 2021 under Education News

When Felicia Lim came to Duke to study molecular cancer biology, she had never heard of global health as an area of study. But as she began her PhD coursework, Lim, who grew up in Indonesia and attended college in China, found herself increasingly drawn to the idea of rounding out her studies with a deeper understanding of how science and health worked at the national and international levels.

“What interested me in global health was being able to look into issues that affect so many countries — learning that the policies within a country have an impact, but that every country needs to be able to work together. That issues like COVID and vaccines — they have to be shared among countries. This is not something that I had learned before,” Lim says.

After she’d worked her way through her PhD program’s prerequisites, she decided to take a Duke Global Health Institute seminar and browsed online to see what types of courses were available. That’s when she stumbled across DGHI’s Global Health Graduate Certificate.

The certificate program allows graduate and professional students across Duke to take interdisciplinary courses in global health as they pursue their primary field of study. The sequence includes three global health courses and a graduate seminar. Students also have the option to complete a field-based experiential learning activity, providing them the opportunity to apply their new-found skills in real-world scenarios.

“The Graduate Certificate program evolved out of faculty interests in engaging and supporting graduate and PhD students interested in global health,” says Laura Bey, DGHI’s assistant director for student and curricular affairs.

Launched in 2013, the certificate was initially available to only doctoral students, but is now open to students in master’s degree and professional programs across Duke, as well. “The graduate certificate has been expanded to reach students who are looking for a way to get a taste of global health content and see how it can complement their academic career,” says Bey.

Launched in 2013, the certificate was initially available to only doctoral students, but is now open to students in master’s degree and professional programs across Duke, as well.

Lim worried initially about incorporating a global health sequence into an already busy schedule of doctoral studies. “At first, I thought I wouldn’t have time to finish the certificate program. I just wanted to take classes that would be useful to someone working on the outside who has no knowledge of public health and global health,” she explains.

Advisors on the DGHI education team recommended the Global Health Challenges course, GLHLTH 701, as a good place to start. Everything just flowed from there, says Lim, who has now completed global health courses in infectious disease epidemiology, communicable diseases, and health systems and policy.

“The program has been amazing, I’ve learned so much from the classes I’ve taken,” she says.

Lim also worked on a research project with mentor Tomi Akinyemiju, an associate professor of population health sciences and global health. Akinyemiju is a cancer epidemiologist with a research program focused on identifying the impact of social and biological factors on cancer-related risk, tumor aggressiveness and survival. It’s a perfect fit says Lim, who has been studying obesity and breast cancer for her PhD. She had hoped to travel to Nigeria, but has been doing virtual fieldwork, analyzing data collected there the year before.

Lim hopes to take what she’s learned and partner with other like-minded scientists and global health experts in Indonesia, applying her knowledge and experience to help improve healthcare systems there.

And that has been another advantage of the global health certificate – it has connected Lim with a wider community of students with global experiences and interests in international health issues.

“In my current PhD program, we are unfortunately not that diverse – a lot of us came from undergrad right away, a lot of have been in science for a very long time, a lot of us are U.S. citizens. In my first global health class, we had people from policy, and people who’ve been working for ten years on the economy side of things. I’ve met a lot of people in the military. An amazing mix of people,” says Lim.

For more information on how to apply for the Global Health Graduate Certificate Program, email