“One of the reasons why I love doing global health work is because it reminds us that we are interconnected. You also realize you need very little to make huge impacts,” said Rahel Nardos, MD, MCR.
As the inaugural director of global women’s health in the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs’ Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility (CGHSR), Nardos will shape the new role and convene an interdisciplinary team with a shared passion for global women’s health.
“This year I'm going to spend a lot of time listening. There are many individuals in different departments who are doing great work in underserved communities, both locally and globally. I want to build connections and get to know what the existing infrastructures here are that we can build upon,” said Nardos.
“We are excited that Dr. Nardos is joining our team and our University. She brings really fantastic skills as a urogynecologist,” said Shailey Prasad, MD, MPH, director for CGHSR. “However, what excited me more is her worldview and vision in creating and directing our global women's health portfolio. She is a listener and approaches the tasks with broad and inclusive frameworks. I know that she will be collaborative across the University in growing a portfolio of global women's health.”
As an expert in urogynecology, Nardos has helped many women with pelvic floor injuries and disorders. Along the way, she discovered that including an array of expertise in health care efforts led to better outcomes.
“This work opens your mind to what other professionals can bring to the table—nurses, physical therapists, health care leaders, public health professionals, biomedical engineers. If you want to provide quality health care, you need to bring in the collective knowledge of everyone,” she said. “You have to be humble because you quickly realize you don’t know everything. You need community.”
Nardos moved from Portland to Minneapolis in the middle of the pandemic and among racial civil unrest. Her brothers and extended relatives live in Minnesota, and she has an extensive support system here. Previously, she spent a summer working at Community-University Health Care Center (CUHCC).
“I have always had a soft spot in my heart for CUHCC, and the type of care they provide—how they use case workers and community outreach to make patients comfortable. It's my dream to practice medicine in a place like this and help make health care accessible to underserved communities,” said Nardos. “I feel like I have the opportunity to bring my global health and cultural background to serve the community here and create a local-to-global effort in women's health.”
LOCAL TO GLOBAL CARE
Born in Ethiopia, Nardos grew up with a strong sense of community and family. She earned a scholarship to attend the International Community School in Addis Ababa and later to attend Franklin and Marshall college in the U.S. She completed her medical degree at Yale University, her OB/GYN residency at Washington University and Urogynecology fellowship and a master’s in clinical research at Oregon Health & Science University. She has dedicated her time to helping people around the world.
“I have been very fortunate to change some of my challenges and difficulties in life into opportunities,” said Nardos. “Growing up in a communist government with very low access to quality health care and education, I had to work really hard to be where I am today, but it was the people I met who became my bridge to humanity.”
Nardos serves on the board of the Worldwide Fistula Fund, a non-profit committed to treating childbirth injuries and empowering women in multiple low-resource countries. She founded Footsteps to Healing, which began as an initiative to provide surgical services to women in rural Ethiopia and now partners with Worldwide Fistula fund, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, Mekelle University in Ethiopia and Maternal Health Fund to support one of the first urogynecology training program in Ethiopia.
“I'm passionate about global women's health and providing underserved care, locally. Women have historically carried the biggest burden of health disparities globally and locally. My new role is a huge platform and opportunity to expand the work I've already been doing in a large university like the University of Minnesota where we can tap into interdisciplinary and interprofessional expertise in healthcare. The time is right,” said Nardos. “We are a global community. We are interconnected and affected by what happens everywhere. The COVID-19 pandemic is a testament to that. There's no way to be safe here if people in other countries or even in our own communities are not safe. As an academic institution, we also have a responsibility to expose our students, residents, fellows, faculty and staff to other world views and to team work to ensure that they are prepared to provide compassionate and equitable care to everyone.”
Being in a conference room isn’t Nardos preferred setting, she’s naturally inclined towards working “on the ground.” Visibility is important to her, as is cultivating a mindset of inclusion and weighing how decisions are going to impact people downstream.
“I am a minority and an immigrant. My worldview is shaped through this lens. It's important for people like myself to be at the leadership table. If you want change and an equitable institution, you have to do the hard work now. You can’t check off implicit bias training and count yourself done. This work is ongoing,” said Nardos. “It's the same for global health, you can’t go to another country and perform surgeries for two weeks and pat your shoulders on the back. You have to be involved on a daily basis, listening and communicating with partners, and supporting them because you really want to see them succeed.”
Nardos describes herself as a “glass half-full kind of person.”
“I see the best in people, and I have had great fortune to work with people who are truly engaged in this work,” she said. “You start to recognize who are true champions: people who put all of their passion and energy into global and underserved health efforts because they care. You can't force this kind of work on just anyone. You find the right people and leverage and magnify that passion; to create a big vision, you need these building blocks first.”