Lisa Adams: Building Geisel’s Global Connections

Read the full story by Susan Green, published by the Geisel School of Medicine.

As a field of study, global health didn't exist when Lisa Adams, MED '90, was a Dartmouth medical student in the late 1980s. Nor were there programs available to help shape the experiences of students like Adams who were interested in working with medically underserved international communities—students were left to their own devices.

Lisa Adams, director of both the Global Health Initiative and the Center for Health Equity and the associate dean for global health, works with doctors in Kigali, Rwanda, as part of that nation's Human Resources for Health Program. (Photo by Lars Blackmore)

Lack of formal programs did not stop Adams from finding her own path, and Adams is now using her more than 20 years of global health experience to help students coordinate international service-learning experiences through Geisel School of Medicine's Center for Health Equity.

A third-generation Albanian-American, Adams went to Albania during her third year of residency. With neither the resources nor the support of a formal program, she took advantage of connections through family and friends to arrange a six-week elective working in the cardiology unit of a hospital in Tirana.

"There was something so profound about that experience that when I came back, I didn't want to change my wristwatch back to American time because I still wanted to be there," Adams, an associate professor of medicine and of community and family medicine, recalls.

Working in Albania changed the trajectory of her career. "It was my life-altering experience," she says. "The cross-cultural aspect of care, together with the dire needs, were compelling to me—it was an experience that I'll never forget."

Adams knew she would continue working abroad, and after completing her residency she headed to Kosovo, where she spent several years as a tuberculosis (TB) medical director with Doctors of the World, USA. After a stint in a community health center in Boston, she joined the International Rescue Committee to provide care to Burundian refugees in Tanzania. She returned to the U.S. in the late 1990s to work for the New York City Department of Health's TB Control Program as director of surveillance.

At that time, Geisel was entering a partnership with the Pristina University Medical School in Kosovo to help it rebuild their medical education and health-care systems. And it was through that partnership that Adams was reconnected with her alma mater. Given her background in the region, she was consulted for informal advice, and she recognized the growth in international programs under way at Geisel.