A Conversation with Dr. Joyce Sackey

David Xiang


I’ve met a lot of passionate and driven people in my life, but Dr. Sackey is definitely someone who stands out. I spoke with her over the phone the other day, and while I wanted to ask her about her career and experiences, I ended up spending most of the interview asking about her journey, her motivations, and her future goals. Dr. Sackey is truly one of the most extraordinary people involved in the field of global health, and I hope that I’ll be able to share a glimpse of her life and work.

Dr. Joyce Sackey, originally from Ghana, attended Dartmouth University and then Dartmouth Medical School. She went on to complete her residency at Beth Israel Deaconess, and served as an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. In addition, she was Associate Master of one of the academic societies at HMS before becoming the Dean of Multicultural Affairs and Global Health at Tufts University School of Medicine.

One of the first things I asked her about was her proudly independent, focused, and determined attitude:

“So I suspect that some of this goes way back, but I think that I fell into this streak in college when I was a newly arrived international student and wanted to pursue medicine, and other international students tried to dissuade me, because typically international students have a hard time of getting into medical school. It was too expensive; the visa issues were complicated to say the least. But I had a childhood dream of being a doctor one day and going back to Ghana and helping address some of the health issues back in Ghana.”

It was clear that Dr. Sackey had a goal in mind, and wanted to pursue it until completion. But her career in global health? Dr. Sackey says she wasn’t planning on it until arriving at Dartmouth:

“My motivation to go into medicine was my directly witnessing that for some communities in Ghana, they didn’t have access to healthcare the same way I did, growing up in the capital city. Part of the biggest motivation for my interest is the very reason of why I went into medicine, which is helping address the problem of disparity in healthcare and healthcare access. Once I became a student, I became aware of the Dartmouth Atlas, which studies geographic outcomes in healthcare in the US. That really opened my eyes, and helped me formulate my life goal. That was an eye opener, that in a country with many resources you can have many variations in care and healthcare outcomes. It became very clear to me that what I care about the most is social justice. My work has involved not only domestically working with others to increase access to care and education, but also engaging internationally.”

Nowadays, in addition to her work at Tufts, Dr. Sackey directs and helps run the Foundation for African Relief (FAR), which she also co-founded. In addition to a Visiting Scholars Program that brings in African physicians to observe their American counterparts, Dr. Sackey has also made combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa one of her top priorities:

“I was following the epidemic in Africa, and saw that HIV/AIDs was basically a death sentence, as they had no care. Therefore, the Foundation for African Relief came out of a sense of injustice, that based off where you live, you could not have access to life-saving drugs.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Sackey, FAR has gone into Ghana, Sudan, and Botswana, teaching everything from HIV management/treatment to basic clinical care and providing free health services and screenings:

“Our program has shifted from treatment and now is providing free medical care in the remotest of places. We basically set up shop in remote areas and provide screenings. It makes people comfortable, because we are saying come here and get free health services.”

In addition to caring for the sick, Dr. Sackey has also made a point to teach and mentor the doctors in these countries, which has paid off tremendously in the long run:

“The people we’ve taught were some of the top health leaders in Ghana, who wrote United Nations (UN) aid funding grants, and now Ghana has an official HIV fund. Even though we started in 2000, by 2002, Ghana was rolling out a national treatment program.”

Although Dr. Sackey has already made a huge impact in fighting current health issues all over the world, she is also focused on paving the way for future generations, and helping future doctors change the world.

“The role I currently play, which is something I imagined that I would not be playing, as Dean for Global Health, allows me to mentor students. I’ve been operating in my role as a medical educator and administrator to allow students to be exposed broadly to global health and hopefully some of these students will become leaders as well. Their idealism really keeps me optimistic, and this generation will want to engage with the global community in a way our generation didn’t.”

Dr. Sackey is a living and breathing reminder to all of us that working and achieving a lifelong dream is possible, and that no matter where we start, we can always end up where we want to be, as long as we work hard enough.