Evaluating Fogarty's impact

September / October 2013 | Volume 12, Issue 5

Fogarty invests heavily in training for research and I’m often asked the question, "How do you evaluate your success?" We regularly conduct program evaluations and I receive a report from an independent team that documents the number of researchers trained, their countries, topics studied and quantity of publications produced. When I finish reading the review, I put it down to reflect on the people themselves and the ways in which this training has really affected their lives and their success as researchers, teachers and leaders. I also think back on the classic quote attributed to Albert Einstein, "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted."

This discord, this dissociation between the numbers of things counted and the assessment of what really counts has become more apparent as I've been visiting African sites where Fogarty has many alumni. At the site of our Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) in Ghana, our group was greeted on campus by the Vice Chancellor of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a biochemist. As Dr. William Otoo Ellis addressed us, he mentioned that he was himself a Fogarty Fellow at the University of Alabama, working on aflatoxins - fungal toxins that grow in moist corn and peanuts and are potent carcinogens in Ghana.

His early training as a Fogarty Fellow launched him in a successful career as a researcher and now Vice Chancellor. Even though we'd never met before, he welcomed me as an old friend and colleague whose fellowship had played such an important role in his personal development. I was charmed even though the kudos should have gone to my predecessors and project officers at Fogarty.

Dr Roger I Glass and Dr Harriet Mayanja-Kizza seated next to each other, both looking at camera

Dr. Harriet Mayanja-Kizza (right), dean of Makerere
University's Medical School, told me her Fogarty
Fellowship helped her earn her master's in

View a video profile of Dr. Harriet Myanja-Kizza
discussing how many Fogarty opportunities helped
to launch her career.

Then, at our MEPI meeting in Uganda, I visited the dean of Makerere University Medical School, Dr. Harriet Mayanja-Kizza. She, too, was delighted to welcome me warmly and tell me that she launched her career after her Fogarty Fellowship at Case Western University, where she received her master’s in immunology. She now has a robust laboratory in Kampala with many doctoral and postdoctoral students and international collaborations, all of which stem from her Fogarty links.

And as our conference closed, Uganda’s Deputy Minister of State for Health the Honorable Elioda Tumwesigye, a physician who has worked on HIV, addressed the attendees. He went off script to tell of his extraordinary career, which reached a new level after he studied epidemiology as a Fogarty Fellow at Case Western in 1998. Before then, he’d never touched a computer, seen snow or thought of himself as a researcher. He waxed eloquently about what this experience meant for his own career and the unique value that this training provides.

These cases are not unique. One of the joys of being Fogarty director is that wherever I travel, people find me, introduce themselves as if we were old friends, and tell me these secrets of their past training through a Fogarty program. By the numbers that we count, these people represent little more than a cold statistic in a bland report. But by their influence as research and policy leaders whose training has been career-changing and whose vision has been shaped early on by contact with their mentors in the U.S., they are perhaps our most effective ambassadors of science and research and represent our best long-term investments in research and collaboration.

The impact of this training to advance the research agenda, create agents of change and develop leaders has been immense. We must evaluate the programs, not in terms of the short-term counts but rather in terms of the long-term careers developed and sustained through these Fogarty collaborations. Investing in the right people through the right programs is a strategy for global health that works!

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