UCGHI Welcomes new Director!

June 22, 2022

The UC Global Health Institute is excited to announce that Dr. Madhavi Dandu will serve as UCGHI’s new Director starting July 1st, 2022.

Let’s get to know Madhavi.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in a small village on the eastern coast of the state of Andhra Pradesh in Southern India. We immigrated to the US when I was a little over 2 years old and I spent the bulk of my childhood in the Midwest, mostly in Michigan. I went to the University of Michigan for college and medical school. I moved out to San Francisco in 2000 to start residency in Internal Medicine and have been here for most of the last 22 years, except for a short hiatus for travel and a couple of years back on faculty at Michigan. I met my husband, Nima, in medical school and we came to SF together for residency. We live on the west side of the city with our almost 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son and our rescue dog, Tiny.

What inspired you to work in global health?

While we ended up in the Midwest, where I spent my whole life until residency, our roots were always in India. Nearly my entire family, outside of my immediate family, still lives there. While going back and forth regularly and for long periods, I watched as India went through its own growth, facing the challenges of globalization and massive income inequality at a breakneck speed. My earliest understanding of health was a recognition of the distinct disparities driven by place and poverty. Then it was a story driven by politics. My father, in particular, instilled in us a sense of deep civic responsibility. Before I was even a citizen and before I could vote, I understood that our political decisions drive the kind of world we create. In high school, I thought about a career in journalism, but when the time came to apply to college, my heart drove me towards medicine. I thought back then that medicine was about a career in service, but, even then, I had an inkling that health was bigger than medicine. I had the incredibly luck of being chosen for a combined undergraduate and medical degree program at the University of Michigan. The program provided me, what I realize in retrospect, was the beginning of transdisciplinary education. Because I did not have to face the usual concerns about applying to medical school, I was able to complete my undergraduate degree in comparative literature, focusing on post-colonial literature. My days were filled with explorations of identity, statehood, justice, and history-telling. In addition, my program required me to be in the community and explore ethics. I came to medical school with a framework that allowed me to be patient-centered, before that was what we called it. As I began to dream of my actual career in medicine, global health became my most natural home. In my own education, my heroes and mentors in global health so freely asked the question only some people were asking in mainstream medicine at the time— why? Why do some people have to get sick or die by accident of their birth? Why are our health systems failing us? Why does health as human right still get debated? Why can’t we imagine a better system?

What career accomplishment are you most proud of?

As I reflect on the last 20 years of my career, I am most proud of my relationship with many of my students and mentees. They have trusted me to learn and grow with them. Being an educator is one of the greatest honors of my life.

How do you practice self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic?

This is a hard question for me to answer. I struggle with self-care. But, I will say that our access to being outside with mostly clean air saved us. Walking, biking, hiking, and just seeing other humans in Golden Gate Park along Ocean beach, or in other places across this beautiful state saved me on many days.

What lessons have you learned during the COVID-19 pandemic thus far?

I am not sure I have been able to truly reflect on the impact this pandemic will have on me and on us, since it feels like we are still in it. But a few things I constantly think about:

  • Immense gratitude for the amazing and inspiring community I am a part of
  • The stark reminder of the structures that we must dismantle to keep people healthy and achieve health equity
  • The belief that there are just a few things that really matter in this world: people/animals/nature and kindness and love

What does leading UCGHI as Director mean to you and what do you hope to accomplish in your new role?

Before applying for this position, I thought a lot about the ways that my mentors and different global health organizations have supported me. I have always felt incredibly grateful to be part of the University of California system. When Dr. Haile Debas envisioned an organization that could leverage the resources of our huge public University system, he saw something incredibly powerful. Global health cannot and should not succeed in silos. We need every discipline, we need every kind of person, and we need every possible idea in order to be effective advocates and actors for change. We need learners, educators, researchers, and doers. UCGHI, with its mission to “stimulate, nurture, and promote” global health leverages the incredibly potential of our institutions and community partners to reimagine global health as it can be. I have relied on the mentorship of many of UCGHI’s leaders to challenge my own practices as a global health practitioner and educator.

With humility and recognition that I would first need to do the work of hearing from the community and our stakeholders, I would imagine moving with UCGHI into the next frontier in global health. This frontier is one in which we must do the incredibly hard work of unlearning, relearning, and truly decolonizing. As an educator, I have had the sincere privilege of being a life-long learner. My students have trusted me enough to ask me to be better and do better. They have asked me how I plan to dismantle the structures and systems that keep people unhealthy, that prioritize certain voices as experts and minimize other voices, and that perpetuate the inequities that our field has been built on. Building on the already amazing work of the Institute, I would hope to be able to challenge us to take stock of the voices of those we have not always included before planning the next phases of the work of the Institute. 

One of UCGHI’s priorities is diversifying the global health workforce, what message do you have for future global health scholars?

Join us, challenge us, we are ready for the change that must come.

Welcome Madhavi!

We also express our gratitude for the UCGHI Director Recruitment Advisory Committee members led by the Chair, Jonna Mazet, DVM, MPVM, PhD at UC Davis, Equity Advisor, Yvette Gullatt, PhD at UC Office of the President, and Hiring Manager, Cathryn Nation, MD, of UCOP University of California Health Division.