PSI’s new Global Medical Director finds the job she never knew she’d been looking for

Many of us at PSI have taken an indirect path to our careers in global health.

Dr. Eva Lathrop is no different. From her beginnings in the Peace Corps and throughout her 20 years of clinical experience, she has moved through life with a drive to help the most vulnerable among us, a trait that unites her with development professionals at PSI and across the field.

In this Q&A we learn how Dr. Lathrop, PSI’s new Global Medical Director, landed in global health, and the adventures she’s had along the way.

PSI Impact: You’ve come to PSI after many years as a clinician, professor and researcher specializing in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. What interested you in the field, to begin with?

Dr. Eva Lathrop: I was not one of those kids who always knew that they wanted to go into medicine. I decided to pursue a career in medicine after teaching high school in Malawi as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early nineties. I was very influenced by the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the time and I was sure I would be an infectious disease physician. In medical school, I had the good fortune to spend six months in Namibia working in the Caprivi Strip (now known as the Zambezi) with an incredible general physician who taught me more than anyone else in my career about obstetric emergencies, surgery, public health, and caring for vulnerable female populations. I learned how to deliver a baby, repair perineal lacerations, perform cesarean sections, manage complications from unsafe abortions, and wrestle with the devastation of failing to prevent maternal death from postpartum hemorrhage and eclamptic seizures. My experiences convinced me that the field of obstetrics and gynecology was the right fit for me.

PSI Impact: Describe your proudest moment as a medical professional.

Dr. Eva Lathrop: I’ve been at this for 20+ years, so there have been many memorable moments. I am most proud when people I have mentored and worked with closely achieve what they set out to do with excellence. These moments are even more poignant when there have been challenges and mountains to climb together along the way. I have always sought mentorship at each stage of my career and have been a mentor for many others through the early stages of theirs. This is one of the parts of my job that I love the most.

PSI Impact: You’ve spent much of your career studying complex questions related to all aspects of reproductive health, especially pregnancy. What do you think was your biggest learning from your research over the years?

Dr. Eva Lathrop: There are so many unanswered questions in global reproductive health and public health overall. It’s exciting to have the privilege to play a part in answering some of these questions. Building the evidence base around continuing to improve the lives of women and families is exciting. But at the end of the day, the evidence is useless if it doesn’t reach those who supported the research on which the evidence is based. These include consumers, clients, patients and other key audiences. These are the people who benefit most from the development of best practices. It’s a critical responsibility of scholars and scientists like myself to never forget who their research is for.

PSI Impact: You’ve worked for PSI as a consultant over the past ten years. What motivated you to apply for a full-time position here?

Dr. Eva Lathrop: Honestly, I wasn’t looking for a career change. That said, I’ve always felt that PSI had a culture that suited me. It is a creative, innovative, edgy and hard-charging organization that isn’t afraid to take a risk and try something new in the name of improving lives. When I applied for this position at PSI, I’d been ensconced in academia for 12 years and, for the most part, I was enjoying the trifecta of clinical medicine, teaching, and public health research. I knew I was at a point in my career where I needed to be challenged, to learn new things and to take a risk. When I saw the ad for Global Medical Director, I felt like the job description was exactly what I didn’t know I’d been looking for. It is rare to find a leadership position in global health with a focus on contraception and abortion – there just aren’t many of those – and I knew that it was now or never and told myself, “take a leap, you won’t have any regrets.” And that has panned out to be true.

PSI Impact: What are you most excited to learn about as PSI’s new Global Medical Director?

Dr. Eva Lathrop: There is no shortage of learning to be done here!  My strengths are in maternal health and sexual and reproductive health technical expertise, research, leadership, mentoring, and relationship building. But market strengthening, health systems strengthening (in the truest sense) and digital health–all incredibly important areas of our work–are not my fortes and I’m excited to build my skills in these areas. PSI has its own organizational culture that is unique and complex, and I’m ready to embrace it and learn along the way.

PSI Impact: What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Dr. Eva Lathrop: I suppose I should say PSI’s work or the drive to continue to find better ways to care for Sara (our archetypal consumer). But first thing in the morning, I’m motivated by the sound of my coffee maker and an early morning yoga class.

PSI Impact: Which is your favorite of PSI’s six values: measurement, pragmatism, honesty, collaboration, trust or commitment? Why?

Dr. Eva Lathrop: I think trust is the foundation for all of PSI’s values. It’s the foundation for all the relationships we build, all over the world, and it’s what makes our work valuable and impactful. We must trust each other and those we serve must trust us; without trust, we can’t achieve any of our other values.

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