How to enter a post in Public Health abroad

 American Laura Messing graduated in anthropology at the University of Maryland - with a focus on sexual and reproductive health - and came to Brazil in search of expanding her knowledge on the subject. The idea was to stay here for three months, but ended up falling in love with the country and extending his stay to one year, between September 2008 and August 2009. At Ilha de Maré - located in the bay of Todos-os-Santos, in Salvador, Bahia -, spent a few days researching local health campaigns that sought to increase the population's knowledge about condom use.

As a researcher in the exchange program for field studies SIT Study Abroad - promoted by the non-governmental organization World Learning -, Laura stayed a month in Pernambuco, to study the contrast between traditional midwives in the municipality of Caruaru and in the urban areas of Olinda, in partnership with the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). “I have always been interested in issues related to people's health and, the more I got to know Brazil and Latin America, the more affinity I created with different cultures and lifestyles,” he says.

After these practical health-related experiences, Laura returned to the USA, this time to work as an educator in New York, where she was born and where her family lives. At that moment, he saw that it would be important to deepen his studies in the area. “If I wanted to pursue a career in which I could make political decisions and expand the impact of my work in the field, I needed to have a master's degree.” He then decided to apply for a course in public health at the Mailman School of Public Health , at Columbia University in NY, considered one of the best in the country.

For showing commitment to Brazil in her professional and personal trajectory - Laura also plays capoeira weekly - she ended up getting a grant from the Lemann Foundation. “The university itself suggested that I try the scholarship, from my application. I am the first Lemann Fellow at the school ”, he says, explaining that the course is still little known. “At graduation, I had a mandatory discipline on public health - until then, I didn't know exactly what it was, but I soon understood that this area encompassed many themes that I have always been interested in”, he says.

About to graduate, Laura recommends the course to Brazilians interested in studying public health abroad. If this is the case for you, find out below what it takes to apply to different schools. As much as each of them has its specificities, there are some requirements in common, such as: résumé (curriculum), statement of purpose (a kind of motivation letter), three letters of recommendation, school transcripts, TOEFL (or similar) and GRE (Graduate Records Examinations). Applications have deadlines that vary between early December and mid-January.


The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the main certificate that proves the candidate's proficiency in the English language. Speaking fluently is essential, as class discussions are an important part of students' academic experience in the best schools in the world. In some colleges, other tests are also accepted, such as IELTS.


Most “top” schools require the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) - an exam that measures the candidate's academic aptitude and indicates whether he or she will be able to follow the master's degree. Some schools also accept the Graduate Management Admission Test  (GMAT). A high score on the tests will not guarantee your place, but the grade is qualifying. There are colleges that publish the average of their students in the exams, which can help to establish your goals in the studies.

See the differences between the GRE and the GMAT


Most colleges require candidates to prepare a personal statement or a statement of purpose (a kind of letter of motivation), in which they must discuss their professional experience in an elaborate and convincing manner. It is interesting to make it clear how your trajectory aligns with what the course offers, and why the master's degree will be important for your future. In the case of the Master of Public Health, the candidate must prove his dedication to the cause from his experience - regardless of his background.


Two or three letters of recommendation are on the list of requirements. The ideal is to ask people who have really lived with you for a long time to validate your achievements. In any case, it is important to remind them of the projects you have carried out under your supervision.

Learn how to get a good letter of recommendation


Applicants must also submit their summarized curriculum and their undergraduate school transcripts. In the United States, having good grades weighs much more than in Brazil. However, it is possible to justify any low marks with involvement in extracurricular projects, for example.


In general, American schools give great support to international students who want to study there, through career centers, including to provide information on internships and scholarships. The process for obtaining a scholarship at the Lemann Foundation , for example, is done directly with partner American universities. If you intend to try the scholarship, it is important to show that you are a good candidate to contribute to the development of Brazil.

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