Underrated Skills In Public And Global Health: Are You Disregarding Key Skills You Possess?

By Sabine Donders, Geonel Moluba and Candela Iglesias Chiesa

The emphasis on hard technical skills is often high in many global and public health jobs. It is sometimes easy to overlook less visible and harder-to-define skills. But these skills are crucial for our personal and professional progression!

We’ll explore how skills in cultural sensitivity, interviewing, and note-taking are crucial to our careers!

Cultural Sensitivity 

I can’t emphasize enough how crucial this skill is in global and public health. I’ve seen so many projects and initiatives go wrong because of a lack of these cultural awareness skills.

As a global or public health professional, you will work on a range of international projects with people from all over the world!

  • Communication styles: Cultural differences in communication styles can significantly impact the effectiveness of public health projects. Some cultures value direct communication, while others prefer subtlety. Adapting your communication strategies bridges gaps, enhancing community engagement and project outcomes.
  • Beliefs and traditions: Cultural beliefs and traditions are at the root of many (health) behaviours and practices. Different cultures may embrace unique healing practices or have distinct beliefs about what causes an illness. To design interventions embraced by the community, you must understand and navigate these cultural nuances.
  • Healthcare-seeking behaviours: Cultural differences can shape healthcare-seeking behaviours and access to services. Trust in healthcare providers, reliance on traditional healers or local pharmacies, and stigmas surrounding specific health conditions can all influence an individual’s willingness to seek medical care. Understanding and addressing these cultural factors is pivotal for reaching and supporting target populations and increasing access to healthcare.

How can you master the skill of cultural sensitivity?

  • Know yourself. Start by understanding your own culture. What are the assumptions you make about communication, (health) behaviours and practices that you are taking for granted are the same everywhere?
  • Embrace curiosity. Open the doors to diverse cultures through websites, videos, books, and resources. Learning with an open mind is the gateway to understanding.
  • Have cultural humility. Actively listen, empathize, and self-monitor. Adapt your communication style to connect with other cultures effectively. Avoid judgments and ask questions instead!
  • Ask questions. Connect with people from other cultures and respectfully ask questions to better understand a tradition, a belief, or a practice that you are curious about. Many people shy away from asking for fear of being disrespectful, yet usually people are happy to talk about their own cultures when someone is truly listening!

Interviewing Skills

Whenever someone from my team joins me for an interview I’m conducting, they are curious at the end to better understand why I moved away from the interview guide at certain points. They are also fascinated by how to create rapport and make the person feel at ease.

Why do we need interviewing skills in public health?

Effective interviewing skills in public health are crucial for gathering information from experts, communities, and individuals and thus understanding differing perspectives. They are a key tool in qualitative research, assessments, evaluations, and shaping evidence-based interventions.

A strong interviewer is able to:

  1. Create rapport quickly and build trust with the interviewee. Cultural sensitivity and awareness are key to creating an atmosphere that facilitates an in-depth, honest conversation. A skilled interviewer builds trust quickly and is thus able to access opinions, perspectives, and stories that people might not otherwise share, including minority or contrasting perspectives, for instance.
  2. Deviate from the script when necessary. When we just start interviewing, many of us stick to the interview guide or script as if it were a lifeboat. With practice, it becomes easier to spot when there’s an open door, an interesting lead, or an area where it might be important to ask for further details and stories.
  3. Ask for clarifications. This is crucial to obtaining higher-quality data with nuances, examples, and a deep understanding of what the interviewee means by an answer. Some interviewees naturally provide in-depth, detailed, and nuanced answers; with others, back-and-forth clarification is required.

How can you strengthen your interviewing skills?

  • Familiarize yourself with the topic. A deep understanding of the subject matter is essential so you can ask smart questions, know where clarifications are needed, and be able to confidently create a strong interview guide and deviate from the script as needed.
  • Create an interview guide. Craft a structured guide with well-thought-out, open-ended questions that facilitate a good conversation. Keep questions short and create prompts that you can use as needed.
  • Practice active listening. Listen attentively to interviewee responses, try and identify facts and opinions. Be ready to delve deeper; ask for examples, for stories, and for competing narratives.

Note-taking Skills

Many people consider note-taking to be one of the most boring admin activities… and it is usually an underestimated skill, to people’s own detriment.

Why is note-taking important in public and global health?

Public and global health involve diverse disciplines and rich exchanges of insights and critical decisions.

Note-taking is crucial because it allows professionals to: 

  • Summarise vast amounts of information. 
  • Distil key messages. 
  • Present vital information clearly in documents and orally to others. 
  • Clarify the next steps and lessons learned. 

When is note-taking needed? 

  • In meetings: Collaborative efforts benefit from documenting ideas, decisions, and tasks to ensure everyone stays aligned. 
  • For reflection: Professionals can summarise their insights, learn from experiences, and guide future endeavours. 
  • At conferences: Notes capture important messages and can be shared to inspire learning and research. 

While note-taking might seem mundane, it’s a skill that sets strong team members and leaders apart. It aids in personal growth and enhances your value to the team. 

How can you become a better note-taker?

Practice makes perfect! Cultivate the habit of taking notes at every opportunity and sharpen your ability to distil key points and next steps on the fly.


Study: Cultural Differences in Communication

Euromed Info: How culture influences health beliefs

Tulane University: How to Improve Cultural Competence in Health Care

Sage Journals: Establishing Cultural Integrity in Qualitative Research

The Qualitative Report: Using Interviewing in Public Health Research

National Library of Medicine: Social and Cultural Norms in Delivering Quality Health Care


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