International Fellowship Experience: Learning HTA alongside Researchers and Policy-Makers in Thailand
I have had the unique opportunity to be an international fellow with Thailand’s Health Interventions and Technology Assessment Program (HITAP) for the last five months between February and June 2015. While the task of chronicling the invaluable experiences I have gained in this short time is a daunting one, there are certain aspects on my fellowship that I am certain will remain in the forefront of mind for many years to come. When I first came to HITAP, I was immediately struck by the youthfulness and energy of the office. I have since discovered that there is a concerted effort by the organization leaders, especially Dr. Yot Teerawattananon, to invest in and cultivate the next generation of leaders in health technology assessment (HTA). Despite the pressure of all of the responsibility that is given to these staff members, there is a tremendous work ethic that comes from an obvious dedication to improving health care in Thailand and the surrounding region. The more I worked with my colleagues on domestic and international projects, the more I was motivated to push myself to work harder as well. I was quite surprised by the depth at which I was able to get involved with different projects from preparing slides and doing presentations during workshops to contributing to academic reports. Some of the notable things I have worked on include writing an academic paper about Nepal using HTA to inform the development of a pharmaceutical reimbursement list, a literature review of the Quality Outcomes Framework in Thailand and the UK, and a mission report, policy brief, and technical report on the PEN intervention on hypertension and diabetes in Indonesia. I was also able to attend meetings with high level decision makers in Thailand, Indonesia, and Nepal and technical workshops on economic modeling, systematic reviews, and other HTA tools. I was often pushed outside my comfort zone in a way that helped me develop and practice many new skills. In the end, it was very easy for me to get inspired by the work that HITAP is doing and the potential they have to use their experiences and successes with health care in Thailand to help positively shape international policy.
Even though I could spend a significant amount of time going into detail about all of the interesting projects I had the opportunity to work on, I know ultimately that the most meaningful part of my experience here was my everyday interactions which colleagues and team leaders. Coming to Bangkok from the US for the first time was an overwhelming experience and I would not have managed to adjust as well as I did without the generous help from the people with whom I worked. Although it did take me getting stubbornly lost in the city on a song taew more than once to actually ask for help, there was never a hesitation on the part of my colleagues to go on personal errands to get me a flu shot or to give me guidance on the technical work I was doing. As I spent more time with them, I even discovered some hidden talents which were on full display as they performed a traditional Thai song and dance during the annual HTAsiaLink conference this past May in Taipei, Taiwan. I will certainly miss this colorful office.
I have always enjoyed working abroad because I deeply believe that interacting with people with vastly different backgrounds is one of the best ways to learn and grow as a person. I have developed some strong professional and personal relationships here which have helped me shape new academic goals and perspectives. This fellowship has been an incredible experience and I sincerely look forward to the opportunity of collaborating with HITAP and seeing my colleagues again in the future. Perhaps, at the very least, I can brush up on my dancing skills and meet them in Singapore for next year’s HTAsiaLink conference!