At the table

Photography courtesy of
S. Sharp

When Sydney Sharp applied to a global policy program in Geneva, she wasn’t sure what to expect. But that was the point.

“I wanted to do something completely new, outside of my wheelhouse,” says the Pitt medical student, now in her second year.

Her time in Duke University’s Global Policy Program in Geneva last summer ended up strengthening a longstanding curiosity. Dual undergraduate majors in biology and African American studies at the University of Maryland had piqued her interest in systemic solutions to health inequities. To Sharp, the summer before her second year of med school seemed like a last chance to dip her toes into the health policy waters before an intense slate of classes, research and rotations focused her path.  

“When will I ever have the chance in the rest of my training to move to Switzerland for two months and learn from the crème de la crème of the public policy sphere?” she thought.

Her experience in the program included an internship with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Sharp took part in the organization’s efforts to decriminalize HIV and AIDS exposure, transmission and disclosure. And at the 50th regular session of the Human Rights Council and the 2022 International AIDS Conference, she helped plan UNAIDS panels and prepare talking points.

“I got to see the bigger picture of how Geneva functions, with organizations working together to achieve a goal,” Sharp says. One challenge, she saw, is bringing together different countries and cultures to address a question. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” she says.

It turns out she has a knack for policy. As part of the program’s intensive course week, Sharp’s group won a case competition about health care for refugees in Poland. At an April conference, she was a finalist in a poster competition and presented a policy mapping project she worked on for UNAIDS.

The Geneva trip wasn’t all work: Sharp bonded with other program participants while hanging out at the Bains des Pâquis, eating gruyère and visiting the Matterhorn. “I was not only having this great educational experience—I was living life,” she says. “This is what the world is like outside of the lecture room!”

Sharp didn’t have much time to reflect before the start of the fall semester. But she’s now seriously considering a step-out year from medical school to pursue a master’s in public policy. “There is space for physicians in policy,” she says. “Bringing yourself to the table is very valuable.”