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SIS Alumna Works to Improve Public Health in Jordan

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Zaina Sarhan

After graduating from SIS, alumna Zaina Sarhan (SIS/BA ’11) gained a wealth of experiences in development and public health in Washington, DC, and the Philippines. She then decided to return to the city in which she grew up—Amman, Jordan—and use her skills and knowledge to improve that country’s health system. We spoke with Sarhan to learn more about her time at SIS, her professional experiences, and her work in Jordan.

Discovering Her Career Path at SIS

When Sarhan (SIS/BA ’11) first came to AU, she wasn’t sure which career she would pursue. She had a strong interest in health and considered becoming a doctor, but nevertheless, she was undecided. It wasn’t until Sarhan took courses in economics and development that she found her professional path.

“I realized that I found my calling in the health sector in development and public health,” says Sarhan. “The path I took at SIS is really what matched me up to finding my passion and my career….[The school] equipped me to understand development from political, social, and economic points of view.”

Experiences in DC and Beyond

While in DC, Sarhan took on roles that exposed her to different aspects of development and public health. While serving as an economic officer at the Embassy of Jordan in 2011 during the Arab Spring, she worked on joint ventures between the United States and Jordan, including health projects, to boost Jordan’s economy.

“This job was at the heart of politics, economics, and social unrest,” says Sarhan. “It was interesting for me to learn the economic impact of the work we were doing and tying it into how it would benefit the country long-term.”

Sarhan also worked at the Advisory Board, a best practices firm that works on improving health care organizations, where she focused on the intersection of health and technology. Later, she went to the Philippines to conduct research on countries with transitioning health systems at the World Health Organization’s Asia Pacific Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

Working in Public Health in Amman

While working in DC and the Philippines, Sarhan became inspired to bring and apply her knowledge and newly-acquired skills to her home city of Amman: “When I was at the Advisory Board, I would see a performance technology and think ‘wow this would be great if we could have it back home’…anything that I would find that was new and interesting and applicable, I would keep in the back of my mind.

After moving back to Amman, Sarhan gained a deeper understanding of Jordan’s health challenges while working at the Royal Health Awareness Society, a nonprofit established by Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan that seeks to raise public health awareness in the country. She also worked at Chemonics International, an international development consulting firm, on a USAID Human Resources for Health 2030 project to improve health management in Jordan.

The USAID team Sarhan was a part of conducted a variety of studies, one of which focused on barriers and enablers for women in the health sector. Upon completing that study, the team found that there was a void in mentorship and networking opportunities: “Women are at the forefront of health in Jordan. They have amazing ideas for quality and better patient satisfaction, but they feel that they are not heard.”

Bolstering Women’s Success through Mentorship

Sarhan’s team wanted to address this mentorship and networking gap by bringing together women who had made an impact in the health sector with those who felt they were blocked by certain barriers: “We thought that if we could bring them together, we could empower them to create a network for themselves.”

A steering committee of Jordanian women from across areas of the health sector was formed and culminated in the Women Leaders in Health Forum, which gave participants a platform to understand how they could move their careers forward and how they could amplify their voices. Though the USAID project concluded in 2019, Sarhan has since met with the women on the steering committee who are working on formalizing the forum.

“Though our project came to an end, the forum is still alive on Facebook,” says Sarhan. “Being a part of a network is important because it reinforces your sense of purpose, and it allows you to build on your skillset while helping other people build theirs.”

Continuing her path to improve Jordan’s health system, Sarhan currently works as a task manager and gender specialist at the Palladium Group, where she focuses on a project to enhance health technology management policies within Jordan’s Ministry of Health. She has developed the gender plan for the project, which ensures that every action coming out of it is gender-sensitive.