Building a public health career across three continents and the importance of a strong support network, with Public Health Lecturer and Researcher, Ritika Tiwari

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Ritika Tiwari, a lecturer in Public Health at the University of Greenwich. They discuss Ritika’s education and career journey, her research interests, and her work in various countries around the world.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Ritika’s education journey and what pushed her into the field of public health
  • Ritika’s work and research in various areas of the world
  • How Ritika’s background in business management and human resources connect to her work in public health
  • How the pandemic has affected the public health system
  • What a day in Ritika’s life looks like
  • Ritika’s experience with teaching and how her work experience has helped her
  • The importance of mentorship for students 
  • Tips for listeners who may be thinking of pursuing an education or career in another part of the world
  • Ritika’s goals and plans in social entrepreneurship in public health
  • Career advice for early career professionals and students

Today’s Guest:

Ritika Tiwari is a Lecturer in Public Health at University of Greenwich, United Kingdom. Ritika is teaching on the BSc in Public Health and MSc in Global Public Health courses, including modules such as Introduction to Public Health, Behaviour Change, Public Health, Policy, & Politics and Poverty, Inequality & Social Exclusion. Ritika’s research mainly focuses on health workforce estimation and forecasting. She joined University of Greenwich in 2022 and previously worked at the Stellenbosch University (Cape Town, South Africa) and Public Health Foundation of India (New Delhi, India). She earned her Ph.D. degree in Health Management from Symbiosis International (Deemed University), Pune, India.

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Episode Transcript

Ritika 0:00
So in public health, there are no shortcuts. You cannot be doing a desk job from day one, you have to go and work in different settings, you have to see and understand the actual health system. Field experience is very important. You have studied the concepts and theories, but practical experience is very important.

Sujani 0:21
Hey there, this is Sujani. And I know you can’t wait to get into today’s episode. So I will make this very quick right now and tell you more about it at the end. Up until now, you’ve been hearing about our career program at the end of our episodes. While those career programs were super successful, our community members found a ton of value through them, we decided to put a stop on it. Because after running a few of those pilot cohorts, and having a lot of discussions with our peers in public health, the participants of the program, schools of public health as well as other changemakers in the field, we are excited to let you know that we’ve taken the career program and have expanded it into a much more exciting offer. That doesn’t just last a few weeks. So if you’re listening to this episode, when it’s going live, I’m super excited to let you know that next month in October of 2022, we’ll be opening up the doors to one of our most exciting offerings called The Public Health Career Club. And you can find out about it at pHspot.org/club. And if you stick around till the end of this episode, I’ll be telling you a bit more about it. But for now, here’s today’s episode.

Hi, Ritika. And welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. I am thrilled to be sitting here today with you, you know virtually, of course, you’re kind of like across the ocean in the UK. I’m here in Canada, and I’m really excited to hear about your story. Especially I feel like we’ve become you know, LinkedIn friends, and it’s just a great opportunity. So thank you.

Ritika 2:04
Thank you, Sujani for inviting me, I’m really excited and thrilled to share my journey. And thank you very much for hosting me today on your show.

Sujani 2:13
Yeah. So you know, the first question I like to ask my guests, and it’s to say- it’s nice to kind of hear them reflect back to how they discovered this field of public health. So for you, when did you discover this area? And then like, when did you have that, I guess moment where you made the decision to pursue your career in this field?

Ritika 2:37
Okay, so I did my bachelor’s, let me start begin from that. So I’m a product of Indian education system completely. I did my bachelor’s in zoology, from Delhi University. And after that everybody was going with the flow, I pursued my master’s in business administration from New Delhi Institute of Management in New Delhi, in human resources, I ended up getting a management trainee role in a corporate job and everything was going well. But one year down the line, things were very strange jacketed, there was nothing more creative to do. So I wanted to pursue an academic career if I could enter at that point. So I was looking for opportunities. So I entered the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare in Department of Management Sciences as a part time faculty. Now during this journey, I got an offer to work as a field data collection we need to do for a polio case study in Uttar Pradesh, it’s in a district. And they are- there are a few experiences during those two days visit that, you know, I really feel that there are gaps in health systems. For instance, we went to a house where there were six children alone and the parents were missing. And then I asked them, Where is your mom, they said, my mother just delivered a new sibling, there was a little child in the house. And they said that the mother is not keeping well, and the father is with the mother, you can see that, you know, definitely the family had no knowledge about contraception. There were gaps that there were no medical specialist available nearby. The health workers were also not there to provide any assistance to the family. So that was one experience. Second experience was that in one of the houses, the elders of the house, they call their children from the family and they sit touch the feed this, she has come from the central government. And you know, that moment I really felt you know that this is something big. This is public health is something we need to work on, and there are gaps in the system. Gradually, I moved into research projects, and there were some management based research projects for nursing workforce that I did. But the main turn game when I moved into public health foundation of India. Public Health Foundation of India is an initiative which was founded by Professor K. Srinath Reddy and I’m really thankful to Professor Reddy because he’s given opportunity to so many young health professionals and public health professionals or even people you know, who were still not knowing what is public health that we got an opportunity to work and create some career out of it. So I joined the team of Professor Sanjay Zodpey, who had been my boss since 12 years, in my entire journey of PHFI. Professor Zodpey is among the top two person scientist in the world. So like, you know, getting in the right place with the right person who was exploring human resources for health. So I got to work in five country project for country project, they were working on competencies, they were working on leadership, you know, there was a lot of work happening. And then Professor Zodpey one day suggested that why don’t you pick up a PhD program, a proper program in health management and I was working also I did a part time program from Symbiosis International University Pune. And that said, like, you know, changed my entire perspective. I was just not doing any mindless research work, then it was more focused towards health workforce estimations, because human resources combined with my knowledge and public health that I was gaining. And then during this journey, Dr. Himanshu Negandhi, he served as a mentor. He is an renowned expert in health systems and you know, getting so much mentoring when you get a piece of each of your mentor, you know, sometimes in life, what are the experts in, and this helped me prepare my final pieces which was submitted. But then at that point of time, due to personal reasons I had to move to South Africa, in moving to South Africa in a new country. With a PhD degree just received, I was very confused what to do, what to explore. Luckily, there was an opportunity with Stellenbosch University in Department of Global Health for a postdoctoral research fellow, I joined the team of Professor, who is still my guide from South African side. And was the head of the department then, and he hired me and there was luckily a ministerial Task Team being constituted by the government of South Africa, and they wanted to create human resource plans. So you know, again, I was at the right place at the right time.

Sujani 7:02
Yeah.

Ritika 7:02
Professor gave me the opportunity to drive the entire research aspect. We created provincial plans for around 18 health worker categories for South Africa, which was a very big thing. It was like one of its kind activity exercise. And there were a lot of experts and academicians and researchers involved. After that report, I think there was a area of research publications that we had. So work was continuing in India, as well as work started in South Africa. So you know, I was working in two countries. For three years of my post doctorate, I really wanted to move into an academic profile. And I thought that why not to get into towards the Global North because in Global South, yes, there are positions, there is a lot of availability of funds. But at times, you know, public health is still not that much into the focus, til the COVID strike. So I started applying, and I applied in Canada in the USA and UK. Luckily, University of Greenwich, the School of Human Sciences, they were interviewing for lecturer and Senior Lecturer positions. I had my three rounds from Cape Town, and here I am, I’m sitting in London. I joined as a lecturer in public health in February, actually, you know, my wingspan has now increased globally, because now I’m working across three continents, I am putting up for a research bed within these three countries in human resources for health, with the guidance of all these centers I have named Dr. Charlotte Jeavons is my interim head of school at Greenwich, and she had been super supportive and helpful. And her guidance is so valuable for me for the UK health system. So this was the journey. So the ultimate thing I would say is that, you know, you pick up a piece from your mentors of their expertise and you develop, and then you have an area of lenses here because seeing the health inequalities in South Africa, because the society is very inequal there, seeing it from there to applying it to India, where urban rural divide is so huge, and we have so many provinces I think, within the UK Health System, also within a single province of Kensington and Chelsea, you can see that, you know, there is a disparity of life expectancy of around 14 years between a rich person and a poor person. Now, you know, all this has helped me become what I am after 14 years of experience in public health.

Sujani 9:29
Yeah, no, it’s interesting, because I think if I just go back to your undergraduate degree, you said it was in zoology.

Ritika 9:37
Yeah.

Sujani 9:37
And then your, I guess, interest to then go get an MBA in human resources. Would you say those two pieces where did you feel like you were on a path at that point already? Or do you think that that that first polio experience was what bridge the two degrees for you and kind of put you on this path for public health?

Ritika 9:56
I think Sujani, you know, the thing that lacked was actually guidance. In my family I am the first in my generation to get into a college out ever to receive a doctoral degree. So, you know, a girls were not encouraged to study and my parents really had to fight away with the family and put a lot of resources in my education. So there was no guidance like, you know, you do zoology then do what? If you do management and do what? So I think I was lucky and I was designed maybe to do what I’m doing. Plus, I always tried to connect the dots. So you know, zoology gave me some input into physiology and embryology and you know, all those medical side non medical side, but yes, somewhat the scientific terms I am. Management is very much lacking in the Indian Health System specifically. So a lot of work has been done by the government to build the management competencies for the medical and the clinical workforce. So, I think that, you know, I was at the right time, working in a new field, and my father always encouraged me telling, there are less people in public health who are experts, so you should explore it. And I still remember that when I got married, my husband was asking my father and professors would pray when he met him that she going to make something a good career in public health or not, because there was so confused most of the family has not heard about what is public health.

Sujani 11:22
Right.

Ritika 11:22
So. So yeah.

Sujani 11:25
Okay. And like zoology, was that just because you had interest in the sciences that you decided to pursue that?

Ritika 11:31
I had a pressure that if I should become a doctor, and I couldn’t clear any medical entrances, unfortunately, I got a very bad bout of chickenpox when all the PMP exams were pre medical exams for there. So this was the best I cleared in the first cut off in college in Delhi University, Gargi college, and I got into this course. And I thought that maybe this course will prepare me for the pre management tests I will take next year. But in during the course, I lost interest for exam or medical degree. So that’s how I entered into zoology. So like, you know, it’s all chance discovery, nothing was planned.

Sujani 12:09
Yeah, no, I think this combination of just human resources and health is such a fascinating field. And maybe, for any of our listeners, who may, you know, be thinking about connecting the dots within their own kind of experiences? Could you tell us a little bit about what that combination of background or experience in public health and HR could enable folks to explore in their own careers?

Ritika 12:35
The most valuable turn was pursuing research program or research project, sorry, in nursing management that we did for the northeastern states of India. So, you know, the basic numbers, like the supply numbers, how many colleges are there? How many pass outs are there? Then what is the attrition rate? What is the retirement age? What is the migration rate? Then, you know, all this gives you an understanding of the workforce system that, you know, what is the input, and what is the output. And I think this is human resource or health that you know, the numbers that you get, how many the government would need, you can forecast in various scenarios, then secondly, or to it, if you add is the gender, that you know, how many female workforce is there and how much the male workforce is there, then there are a lot of human resource management issues regarding their pay scales, their transfer policies, then even in the education system, you know, the faculty is not retaining. The students are not getting the right kind of competencies in the curriculum or the practicum exposures. This is all human resources, right? Where we talk about organizational behavior, we talk about competencies, we talk about training and skills, I went to a complete research site. So that was my competence.

Sujani 13:52
Do you kind of see that, since the pandemic, your area of work has picked up more interest, because I know, there’s a lot of talk, as well as like more funding and debates around our healthcare system and whether we’re properly staffed and even the education and training for not only nurses, physicians, public health professionals, I’m curious to hear what the pandemic has done for this area of work.

Ritika 14:19
Absolutely. COVID has exposed the vulnerabilities of our health system, and not only in the low income countries or in the middle income countries, but also in the high income countries. And the worst part is that COVID has stopped everything right? If somebody is waiting for a diagnosis to be done, or a cancer screening to be done, everything’s stalled. And in the process, we can see that people who were supposed to wait for six months are now ending up not getting a diagnosis at all or not getting any treatment or anything like that. So I think because of COVID, yes, there’s a lot of focus on human resources for health, the stress, the burnout that we have seen in the workforce, as I remember seeing visuals from China when it all began in 2012, that the health workers were crying, they were not able to handle the burnout and the workload that came. So I think this is the right time when the government’s and most of them are realizing that, you know, this is the right time to invest in the health workforce and prepare them for the next pandemic. Sooner, the better we are prepared.

Sujani 15:22
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. In Canada, we’re definitely seeing frontline workers feeling the burnout from just two years of intensity. Right? And I do hope there’s some some support that comes in and some political will as well. So your your role now the university as a lecturer in public health, what does that kind of look like? What does your day as a lecturer look like for you?

Ritika 15:46
My day is super exciting,

Sujani 15:49
Okay, let’s see.

Ritika 15:51
So, there are some key activities that I do depending on in which part of the year we are.

Sujani 15:56
Okay.

Ritika 15:57
Research papers are, you know, they are a very substantial part of the day because I am writing in different groups in different countries. So, I always ensure that my research pipeline is there prepared till this state where we are sitting in July, around 10 plus paper have been submitted to various journals. So the output will come for sure, and, you know, take six or five rounds, also sometimes for certain research papers, and you have to be very active. So, that takes most of my time, then planning and working on research grant pits, because recently I was working on an MRC based research grant for three countries and like I am being the PI had to prepare the proposal, getting the series of my co-researchers, you know, a lot of work put into that getting several approvals from the university, then I’m preparing for my sessions. I am supposedly I will be taking four modules in the next year. So you have to have meetings with those who are leading the modules before and preparing sessions as well, with the recent changes in the health policy or, you know, like anti abortion laws in the US. If you bring that element or if you plan a visit for the students to the UN Office, then you know, you have to do a lot of preparation for that. I meet a lot of colleagues, virtually and physically for various research and academic matters. I have been busy in planning and holding two conferences this year. One was the student conference and one was the recent social entrepreneurship conference. In between all this, I keep receiving student calls, specifically, younger female public health aspirants, you know, they keep approaching me on LinkedIn, somebody wants to do a doctorate degree, somebody wants to pursue a master’s degree, and they need guidance. And I ensure to get back to everybody, because I think if my five or 10 minutes during my day can help somebody, then it is priceless. You know, people need guidance, they need to know where to invest their time and money for further education. I am also studying for my personal own development, like I have maintained a record since two years that I have to do a course. So last year, I did a course in implementation sciences. And this year, I am currently pursuing an economic evaluation in global health from University of Washington. And once that ends, you know, I’ll find something else. So and so it’s like a triangle, you know, you do research, and you then translate your research in your teaching and students supervision. And then you have to study for your own continuous professional development, so that you can do better research and teaching in future. So you know, it’s like the three sides, three angles of a triangle.

Sujani 18:36
Yeah.

Ritika 18:36
That’s how my day generally goes.

Sujani 18:39
Yeah. So I know, you know, just based on hearing about your journey so far that you have this interest in research, if not a passion. The other side of being a lecturer obviously is teaching students and is that something that you’ve always found to be like that you were kind of pulled towards and enjoyed like the mentorship aspect and teaching?

Ritika 19:00
I really enjoyed teaching and they’re surprisingly students like my sessions because you know, I try to bring everybody the same place. So at Greenwich, we have a representation from Africa, from Asia, from UK, you know, that’s like a multidisciplinary, multi background classroom and you have to handle and retain their attention and I bring a lot of pop culture to my sessions. For instance, if I have to talk about health inequalities to begin with, like inequalities, if you have to teach so I talk about parasite movie, right? So most of the students have watched that and you know, such examples and then I talk about movies for public health law like Erin Brockovich, I think if you have seen that movie, so you know, bringing lot of pop culture helps sometimes. Students understand the relevance and then they connect more.

Sujani 19:51
Yeah.

Ritika 19:52
And yes, even after the sessions I am well connected with my students and super friendly, they want to talk about any personal, you know, academic issue? I’m always available. That is surprising for me as well, that I’m good at teaching.

Sujani 20:07
That’s so nice to hear. And what are the so you are teaching four courses this year?

Ritika 20:13
Yeah, I’m teaching four courses. So one is in public health policy. So it’s public health policy and politics. Second one is introduction to public health and health promotion. Third one is poverty, inequality and social exclusion. The last one is behavior change and health promotion. So they’re split between term one and term two, between bachelor’s and master’s programs. So it’s going to be a very busy year.

Sujani 20:40
Oh, yeah. Very busy. From what I’ve seen, I’m not in academia, nor research. But typically, people would graduate from their PhDs and and kind of build a career in academia.

Ritika 20:54
Yeah.

Sujani 20:55
And, you know, based on what I’ve heard from you, you kind of worked in consulting management, and then worked at Public Health Foundation of India, and then did a postdoc and then went into academia. Did you find that route, you know, at all challenging to kind of get yourself into academia a number of years after completing your PhD? Or how was that journey for you?

Ritika 21:17
I think, my journey has taught me a lot and prepared me very well. Because when I am doing my sessions, I cite my own papers, my research work, I show them snapshots of my own findings and tell them, you know, how I approached for a certain problem. There’s a lot of case based learning that I do in my sessions. And those cases are majorly developed from the work that I have done the kinds of situations, Health System Settings I’ve seen. So I think I’m more prepared now to handle a crowd of 80 to 85 students, we have 85 students on campus then we have to attend lectures. And I think for that you need a lot of experience, and you have to be somewhere in your knowledge spectrum, you know, to handle the various mindsets and age groups and backgrounds. So I think my journey has helped me a lot to enter this teaching role. If I would have entered with sooner I don’t think so that I would have justified myself being a lecturer. Yeah.

Sujani 22:16
Yeah, that’s a good point. Because I think students, you know, just thinking about myself, when I was a student, we are looking to the professors to kind of guide us in our own path, and, you know, quote, unquote, going into the real world, most of us are going to go find a job outside of academic research. So yeah, I could see how your insight and your experience, especially across three continents, lends itself to the students as such a great learning experience. And think before we started recording, I was telling you that a lot of our listeners are interested in kind of working or studying in areas or regions of the world that they didn’t grow up in. And I’m curious to hear from your experience, what has enabled you or helped you to open up and, and see the world as your playground, essentially, and not just kind of stay where you grew up? Because that takes a lot of courage, I’d say to move around. I know, I moved around to different provinces, but I stayed within the country. And, you know, if I were to think about moving to another country, it would take a bit more convincing, I think, for myself, and then my family as well. So yeah, what can you say about that experience and encouragement for those of us who might be thinking about it in the future?

Ritika 23:34
Sujani, I think, you know, here actually a very important aspect of my life place, the personal background I have been, my parents were super supportive in me studying, going to college, they had full confidence in me, like, you know, whatever is pursuing my father always encouraged me that you should apply for a faculty position, finish your PhD. And during this whole process, I got married, I gave birth to my daughter, the journey has been personally also very fruitful and enriching. The second aspect of my life after marriage was my husband, he is very close to me, because we were friends. And you know, there’s always that equal relationship in, in real life. So sorry, if I’m derailing it, but I think the personal aspect plays a very important I, specifically in a woman’s life, because you know, I’m coming from an Indian family, there are cultural norms, which actually pull you down. My in laws are very supportive, and they were more excited than my parents, for me to get a doctoral degree and my mother in law, she is my go to mentor. You know, whenever I’m stuck on an emotional level, or wherever I’m stuck, I call her and I give a lot of trouble during the day. But I think this is all which if you see somebody in South Africa commented to me that you know, I have never seen such a progressive Indian woman in my life. So I told him that there is a lot of background a lot of people who helped me to become I’m what I am. So I think this is what keeps me motivated. And definitely moving countries is very difficult, you know, when you come from, from close knit family background, and you have lot of peer support there. But yes, this is what it is like, you know, I have got wings from my family’s background, and I think this is what encourages me to be what I am.

Sujani 24:43
I think that yeah, that support definitely helps whether you’re going to, you know, find that in your family, or your friends, or your peers or mentors, certainly, having that conversation with yourself in your head doesn’t help. And it’s nice to, you know, even like, brainstorm with folks around the table, whether it’s your friends, or your mentors,

Ritika 25:40
And my mentors have always been there for me, you know, whenever I look back to you, like, you know, Prof or to Dr., or I need this, I need a reference letter. Should I apply? Will you help me to review my presentation, and you know, they were always super supportive, even in the personal time, even on a weekend, they would pick up my call. And then this is what my PV call in India, Guru Dakshina. Right? So this is what my pay back to my mentors is that I am also like that with them.

Sujani 26:06
Right. Yes, no, I absolutely believe that, too. I know the number of people I reached out to and I was figuring out what to do with my life. So I tried to do the same thing back to whoever reaches out. Okay, so I do want to talk about this one topic, social entrepreneurship. I know, you know, you and I connected even before this conference that you organized around social entrepreneurship. But I think I even saw that you you had posted recently that this is an area that you’re currently exploring with one of your possibly one of your past mentors, or your current mentor, but you worked with in the past. Yeah. Could we talk about social entrepreneurship and public health especially and maybe how you became interested in this area and what your goals and plans are in this area?

Ritika 26:53
Yes. So you will not even imagine like, you know how it all began. So one day, I think I published one paper and Dr. Allen, so he is an associate professor with Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, in India. And it is like number two ranked management school in India. So he sent me a LinkedIn message that I really like to research work. And if we can collaborate on something, I’m always open to a research paper or you know, any any research study. So I had a zoom call with him. And he proposed that, okay, we can work around social entrepreneurship. And he explained to me in that call, who are social entrepreneurs, so he gave me example about, you know, there’s a person Aruna, sorry, I’m forgetting his name, he works on making sanitary pads for women, which are like then picked up by women for self help groups. And you know, how they make an earning out of it, how the amputees are given prosthetic limbs, you know, they’re supplied at low cost, and if cataract operations are done in India at low cost. So he said that, can we do a scoping review around this, and let’s look forward to a research publication. So I picked it up. And then I found it so interesting. We ended up writing a full blown manuscript, which has been submitted for publication. But then when I moved to Greenwich, my colleague Charles told me that, you know, he works in social entrepreneurship. And I said, Yes, we would like to submit something for a conference. And gradually, I got involved in the entire process. So I think this was that management think in me that, you know, it came up and connecting it social entrepreneurship in public health services. So this is a new field that I’m exploring, because as a researcher, you know, I think we learn, we should not put all our eggs in one basket, as a researcher, also, I think I should have more domains to my portfolio. And this is something and then the conference went very well. And we hope to take the findings to the United Nations in a white paper. And let’s see how it goes.

Sujani 28:57
So exciting. Yeah, entrepreneurship is something that I’m obviously as you know, very passionate about, especially in the- in the field of public health. And, yeah, maybe you’re the right person for me to kind of ask this question is, you know, I see a lot of startups, for example, in the healthcare space.

Ritika 29:16
Yeah?

Sujani 29:16
Have you in the process of exploring this area, kind of being able to distinguish or kind of separate healthcare entrepreneurship ventures, versus like public health ones that are kind of rooted in the social determinants of health perhaps I know, the cataract surgery, for example, the end goal is a health service-

Ritika 29:38
Yeah.

Sujani 29:38

  • or a treatment, but then it may be yeah, maybe I’ll leave it at that and see what you have to offer to that question.

Ritika 29:45
Social entrepreneurship and health is one thing. So what is public health is basically health promotion and disease prevention. There are a lot of services like you know, providing safe drinking water. One of the social entrepreneurship innovation in India is to provide safe drinking water, then supplying medicines at low cost than the normal medicines, then physical disabilities is something that, you know, lots of people are working, then providing ambulances, you know, for low cost. There’s a complete list of around I think 26 entrepreneurs that I have found in my scoping review, then decentralizing like tuberculosis care in community based models, then there are organizations working on mental health, then, you know, all this be brought together in that one paper, and a lot of NGOs specifically who are working in nutritional and clinical services or you know, who are targeting mental health, menstrual hygiene, health promotion, and then maternity and women health, you know, things like that. See, it’s a very vast field. Public health is like an umbrella. Right? And social entrepreneurship and public health. Yes, it is there in a niche. But I think we need to bring social entrepreneurship to the forefront, your initiative, like in capacity building, it is very unique, the model is very unique. If people will not know about a profession, how would they even explore that? And how would we create a workforce in that? So I think these are little different paradigms of public health is a very young profession. And social entrepreneurship is more younger than that.

Sujani 31:21
Yeah, it was interesting at the conference, you know, it goes back to that discussion of what is the actual definition we want to work off of for social entrepreneurship?

Ritika 31:29
Exactly.

Sujani 31:30
I think sometimes that same question rises for public health, right? Like, sometimes we need a definition for public health. Because some folks would define it as a much more like I know, for myself, I define it much more broadly. And yeah, even for PH SPOT, we thought about how should we define our audience and eventually decided that we will let people self select if they feel that they’re part of the public health field, right? Because like, you could be an engineer, and be working on a project that ultimately support the public’s health, and you feel like you’re a part of the public health field, then I’m not going to put a definition and stop that individual from connecting to this community. So yeah, similarly, that discussion of a definition for social entrepreneurship also came up in the conference, which I thought was great, because I was kind of struggling with that definition. When you had reached out for me to be part of that conference.

Ritika 32:30
No, but I think, you know, it’s, it’s all about taking that first step.

Sujani 32:34
Yeah. Yeah, no. So you know, looking back at what you’ve done so far, and the kind of journey that you’ve taken, Ritika, are there moments where you kind of think to yourself and wonder, you know, should I have done something differently? Or do you even think like, maybe if I had gone down this route, I could have done X, Y, Zed? Or do you really like the path that you took so far?

Ritika 32:57
I’m really happy with the path I’ve taken so far. Because you know, I have a very different perspective, maybe that’s why I was very different. I had, I had been always in a lot of, you know, 10-12 colleagues working on same thing, and I had the ability to think out of the box. And that’s why maybe I’m here, I can say that proudly. But I think you know, that time when I was pursuing my master’s back in 2009, so there were only four or three public health institutes in the country. And if somebody would have guided me that you can pursue this program and pursue a career in public health, then I could have done an additional public health program at Masters or PhD level. But today, I think the more than 100 colleges in India, so over these last one and a half decade, all these colleges opened up, because all career opportunities are increasing in India for public health professionals. So I think there was that gap of those training institutions there. But that was the system. So even I did a research on how many institutes were there. And how many when it all started, you know, public health education started in India and how many are today. Yeah, so maybe that was one thing, a masters or a PhD in public health, but I might do that anywhere in life.

Sujani 34:12
Of course.

Ritika 34:14
Yeah, just to refresh myself.

Sujani 34:17
Yeah, no. And then the other question that I love to ask is for some of our early career professionals or students, what’s some advice that you would give them as they are thinking about where to take their careers next?

Ritika 34:31
Very importantly, what I’ve seen in students now these days, everybody wants to go and work in an AC environment in an AC office, you know, air conditioned office sitting at a desk job. So in public health, there are no shortcuts. You cannot be doing a desk job from day one. You have to go and work in different settings you have to see and understand the actual health system. Field Experience is very important. You have studied the concepts and theories but practical experiences is very important. So you cannot be working in reproductive and Child Health Program without ever stepping into a labor room in a district hospital.

Sujani 35:07
Right.

Ritika 35:08
That you need to know the equipment’s the workforce involved, the settings it is taking place. Secondly, I think find the right mentor. And always be thankful to your previous mentors. As you can see, in my journey, I picked up some skill, good skill from my each mentor. And then this is how my entire portfolio has been created. And I’m always connected with them, I am always thankful to them. And when to tomorrow, I’m going to put up a research project, I can always collaborate with them. So public has this lot of networking skills. And yes, learning because you know, those who are your mentors, they have definitely learned something. That’s where they are sitting there where they are. These are the two mantras from my side.

Sujani 35:51
That’s important advice. Yeah, I know, I’m going to be going and reading up on some of your papers, because I’m, yeah, very excited to kind of learn more about the work that you’re doing. And so we’ll be sure to put those links in our show notes. So anyone else who’s interested can also go and look into that. And I know I’m especially interested in your work in social entrepreneurship. So I’ll be following that along. And you know, you mentioned one of the examples with Mr., and it reminded me of the Netflix movie, there’s-

Ritika 36:22
Pad man, pad man. Yeah.

Sujani 36:24
So I think it’s in Hindi. But there are English subtitles. And I do remember.

Ritika 36:29
You can hear his TED talk. He delivered a TED talk.

Sujani 36:32
Yeah.

Ritika 36:33
Available on YouTube.

Sujani 36:34
Yeah, amazing story. So I would encourage anyone who’s interested to also check that out. And I think you’re quite active on LinkedIn as well, Ritika and maybe folks can follow you there. If they’re interested in seeing your work.

Ritika 36:47
I’m on Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on ResearchGate. My Google Scholar profile is also active. So I love connecting to public health aspirants if they need some guidance, and my phone is always buzzing. So I have a good little fan base of my own little community that’s growing.

Sujani 37:04
Oh, that’s great. And I become your newest fan.

Ritika 37:07
You are my new new collaboration. And you are my new collaborator, and I have missed really collaborating in Canada. But I got somebody.

Sujani 37:15
Oh, great. Yeah.

Ritika 37:17
Yeah.

Sujani 37:18
We’ll do something. Thanks so much, Ritika. I know it’s a- it’s an exciting and busy day for you today. So I really do appreciate you joining me on the podcast.

Ritika 37:25
Thank you for having me here. I look forward to our collaboration and future as well.

Sujani 37:32
Hey, so before you go, as promised, here’s a bit more about the public health career club. So when I think back to the successes that I have had about the almost 70 or so guests that I’ve interviewed, who have discussed their successes, or when I think about the hundreds of professionals that I’ve interacted with a lot of the reflections circle back to having had the right people around us, right? And so knowing the power of this, whether we call it community, or we call it support circle, or your Public Health Network, essentially, we’re talking about the people we surround ourselves with, who lead us to success. And so knowing this, we are launching the public health career club, with the vision of building the largest global public health community. So essentially, we are building the space rooted in community to become the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals from all around the world, the club will also offer other great resources for career growth and success, such as mindset coaching, job preparation clinics, career growth strategy sessions, in the form of workshops, seminars, and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. And so you can learn more about how to join the club by visiting phspot.org/club. And we officially will be opening the doors in October of 2022, with perks for founding members. So be sure to get on the waitlist for more information. That’s where we’ll be communicating all the information. And so to kind of wrap this up, I want to tell you that you know, as I built the PH SPOT community these past five years and now, as we are working to build up the public health career club, this one quote from Oprah always comes to mind. And it’s this, “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” And that’s exactly the space we are creating as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals from all around the world, who will not only push themselves to become the best versions of themselves. but also each other. And I can’t wait to see how this will have a ripple effect in the world as we work to better the health of our populations. And I hope you will be joining us.

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About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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