Career reflections after 43 years in the workforce, with Pegeen Walsh

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Pegeen Walsh, the former Executive Director for the Ontario Public Health Association. They discuss all the twists and turns along her 43 year long career, her accomplishments in the public health field, and talk about how to take initiative and seize career opportunities in your professional journey.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Pegeen became interested in public health
  • Pegeen’s path from her degree in political science to her roles working in government and nonprofit organizations
  • How public health is related to various fields and the importance of having many diverse professionals champion it 
  • The various public health projects that Pegeen has been involved in
  • What tools are available to find your talents and passions to guide you in building your career
  • The importance of having diverse perspectives in furthering public health
  •  Advice for new professionals on taking initiative in their work 
  • What Pegeen would have done differently in her career path
  • The biggest challenges that Pegeen has faced in her professional journey and how she overcame them 
  • How Pegeen is involved in public health even in her retirement

Today’s Guest:

Pegeen Walsh recently retired as the Executive Director for the Ontario Public Health Association where she oversaw advocacy efforts in public health, training, capacity building and knowledge transfer and exchange initiatives within the province and beyond. Prior to OPHA, Pegeen led the design and delivery of a wide range of programs, policies, partnerships, and research that supported individual and community health and well-being as an executive with the federal, provincial and non-profit sectors. As Ontario Regional Director with Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Director of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, she oversaw various health promotion initiatives focussed on seniors, early child development, healthy eating, tobacco control, healthy communities, injury prevention and more. As Director of Public Policy at YMCA Canada, she developed government relations training and strategies. She now serves as an active OPHA volunteer supporting various initiatives including a bridging program for international medical graduates and some public health consulting projects.

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Episode Transcript

Pegeen 0:01
Keep knocking on those doors and asking for help asking for advice, sharing your perspectives, and just that curiosity and commitment to continuous learning that can really pay off.

Sujani 0:14
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.

Hi Pegeen. And welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. I feel so honored to be able to speak with you today and to really share your career journey with our listeners, because a great career I think you’ve built in the past 30 or so years.

Pegeen 0:44
Well, thanks. I’m delighted to be part of this podcast and really impressed with PH SPOT and how that’s evolved over the last several years. So I’m honored to be part of your podcast series. So thank you for inviting me.

Sujani 0:57
Oh, you’re very welcome. And thank you for those kind words. So there’s a- there’s a question that I always start with, with many of my guests. And it’s about, you know, how did you even discover the field of public health? And as I was preparing for this episode, I jumped on LinkedIn and scroll down to see, you know, what, what was the education that you perhaps, you know, was it in public health? Or how did you even find public health? And I couldn’t find that answer for myself. So I’m excited to hear how you kind of stepped into public health because you graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor’s in political science. And then I saw that eventually, you made, I guess, your way into public health, working at the Public Health Agency of Canada and then into the provincial government, and then not for profit. So if you can take us back to maybe that moment where you were like, okay, this is public health, and this is what I think I might spend, maybe the rest of my career in.

Pegeen 1:53
Well, it’s interesting how careers unfold, because as you’ve described, mine has taken many twists and turns. And as mentioned, with a background in political science, in fact, him when I was studying and graduated 1979, I’d never even heard of public health. But I was really inspired by strong advocates at the time, like Ralph Nader, who is a strong consumer advocate, and was concerned about issues of injustice and fairness. And I wanted to mention this program that I was able to be part of, because I hope others will also pursue it, it’s just a terrific opportunity. For those that are really interested in understanding influencing public policy, I was selected as one of 10 interns to be part of what’s called parliamentary internship program. And I spent 10 months working for a government member and a member of the opposition and learning about how the public policy process works and how our house of commons works. So from there, I was able to secure a position working at the Canadian Huge Information Office, because at that time, there were issues of Canada’s future that were at stake, and later on join something called the Secretary of State Department and got involved in all kinds of issues for volunteerism, supporting the accessibility for people with disability. At the time, there was a program called native Citizens Program, women’s issues, court challenges to support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so wide range of issues that really talk about participation of those who are often vulnerable, and on the edges, if you will, and the gentleman I was working on at the time, he was asked to come over to Health Canada, and at that time, Minister BD, was trying to launch a national aid strategy. And my former boss asked me to come over and help. So that’s really how I started getting involved in health issues, and particularly public health. And part of what you learn in government is how to quickly assess, you know, what needs to be done, who’s who, what’s at stake, and how to bring people together and make things happen. And from there, I was able to meet my partner, and he got a terrific opportunity in Toronto, and I headed up the regional office for Health Canada’s Health Promotion Directorate. And we had a wide range of programs to do with early child development, the Canadian action program for children, prenatal nutrition program, seniors, injury prevention programs, environmental programs, AIDS community action program, and later on, we became the first regional office for the Public Health Agency of Canada. And as an executive, as part of that team. We were able to shape you know, the direction of the Public Health Agency of Canada. So that was very exciting. And after many years of doing that, I was looking for a different role and challenge and through my involvement around SARS, I saw Dr. Sheila Basler in action, and I thought, wow, I would love to work for that woman. And so a position came open in the newly created Ministry of Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, and I secured the role as the director for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. So you can see sort of how one opportunity led to another opportunity. And I never really said at one point like, oh, I want to build my career in public health, but I was taken by all the issues that affect people’s health and well being and societal health and well being. And again, that passion to want to be making a difference and having impact propelled me along this path of contributing in the realm of public health.

Sujani 5:22
Yeah, you know, you said back in 1975, you didn’t even know, you know, a field like public health existed. I’m curious to hear whether there was a point during this whole journey, where you kind of put a name to this area of work that you were interested in and feeling inspired to continue in to say, you know, I think this is public health, and this is what I feel interested in.

Pegeen 5:48
Wow, that’s a really good question. And one of the things that happened to me at different points in my career is I would meet people that were doing interesting work. And I’d ask them a lot about what- what does your day look like? And what does that work involve? And what do you like about it? And then after I leave, I think, wow, I’d really liked that job. And it happened to me several times, where I actually got that job.

Sujani 6:10
Oh, yeah.

Pegeen 6:11
I would sort of from a distance be watching people in different roles, and then think, wow, I- that’s something I want to do. So I’m not really sure that there was a moment where I said, that’s it, you know, I’m building my career in public health is, is I think that early days of wanting to make a difference, be an advocate, effects societal change. And it unfolded such that work in health promotion, and public health allowed me to achieve that, that- that vision I had for myself.

Sujani 6:40
Yeah, yeah, it sounds like you follow the people, you know, the people that inspired you, you followed in their footsteps and that person like you to another person, and another person, and I’m just thinking back to a time where there was no LinkedIn, or, you know, the ability to jump on the internet and search for anyone’s background. So I talked quite a bit about doing informational interviews with early professionals to say, you know, go out and speak with people, learn about the journey that they’ve taken as an inspiration for your own if you feel stuck. And I don’t know if there’s anything more that you’d kind of add to your experience of just speaking with so many different and wonderful professionals in public health that kind of guided your journey?

Pegeen 7:26
Yes. Just before I entered that I was also wanting to mention, I think, why I didn’t have that moment of saying, oh, that’s it, I’m building my career is I think one of the things that was awkward for me is that I have a degree in political science. And in public health, you have so many people who come from different regulated colleges and different types of diverse disciplines. And I was really encouraged at one point, David Mowat, who was Ontario’s former chief medical officer of health, and at one point, he was medical and health repeal, he also worked with Public Health Agency of Canada. And I remember, and he was very much a champion behind creating these national collaborating centers, and encouraging, you know, increasing numbers of schools of public health. And I remember at one meeting I was at, he said, you know, we need people from all different disciplines who embrace public health and look through that lens of public health, because we need those champions, because public health and the role of the determinants of health cuts across so many sectors, you know, we need those friends and champions everywhere. And that was the first time I really felt like, okay, I love this work. And now I feel more included, if you will. But I think the fact that I didn’t have a degree and a master’s of public health or discipline, for some time, I felt more like I was on the edge, if you will. But what I did see that was valued was this understanding of public policy, understanding of government, and in government, you also do a lot of project management. So you really, you know, it’s all about getting from A to B, how do you mobilize people? How do you quickly synthesize what’s at stake? How do you bring people together to achieve a common goal? So those were the things that led me into this- in this field. And then as you mentioned, I’m just a very curious person. And I think that commitment to continuous learning is a great way to build your career because by interacting and talking to others, I found that really inspired me it gave me creative ideas. And it also through that network, in fact, that’s how I ended up taking on the role as executive director of the Ontario Public Health Association. I heard about a an annual meeting, Dr. Butler Jones was speaking at that meeting, I thought, wow, you know, I used to work so closely with him. I haven’t seen him for years. I want to go hear him speak. And so I went to see him and then the next day, I ran into someone I had worked with years before on the subway platform in Toronto. And then she’s the one that told me about the opportunity and she’s like, because we started talking about Butler Jones and yes, she had been at that meeting too and then she said, oh my gosh being agent you know, they’re looking for someone, you’d be terrific for that you should approach them, go for it. So I’m- I did find out about opportunities just through keeping in touch with a wide range of people and finding out what was happening in the sector.

Sujani 9:59
And it sounds like you made quite an impression on all of these individuals, because if they’re betting for you and telling you that you’d be a great person for this role, it speaks a lot with the impact that you’ve made in these places.

Pegeen 10:10
Thank you. I was just thinking about Sheila Bathra And, for example, when I was sworn in to become an Ontario Public Servant, the woman asked me who I was working for. And I mentioned, Sheila, she was oh, my gosh, she’s such a person. And then another day, my first day of work, I was trying to get into one of the Ontario government offices, and there was a lot of security, and I was just describing what I was doing. And then they said, where do you work? I said, well, I’m working with Sheila Bathra. And again, this gentleman said, oh, my gosh, she’s such an amazing person. I thought, you know, this is something that I’ve certainly see is that everybody has things that they can contribute. And that value of just connecting with people from all walks of life, and hearing their perspective just adds to your own ability to see things broadly and see things from other people’s views and is a sad thing. She was a terrific person for doing that in terms of regardless of your background, your training, that sense that everybody has something to contribute.

Sujani 11:04
So it’s wonderful, unless feel like such an honor to have been part of you know, her team and working alongside her leadership.

Pegeen 11:11
Yeah, just sad, because it was very short.

Sujani 11:14
Yeah, yeah. You piqued my interest a little bit there. And you said, you’ve often asked individuals, you know, what does a day in the life of your role look like? And I’m kind of curious now to hear about what that you know, day in the life of your role working under Sheila’s team at the provincial Ontario Ministry looked like at that time.

Pegeen 11:33
Oh, my gosh, what an intense time, you know, when she was brought on, she was recruited by Minister of Health and George Smitherman at the time. And coming out of SARS, there was an interest in wanting to reform public health and strengthen it in the province. So she had launched an action plan. And as well, she had secure funding for smoke free Ontario strategy. So I was involved in getting that off the ground. You know, we were involved in things like looking at the social marketing, I remember sitting with her in a meeting, looking at the TV ads, and trying to find a way to encourage people to quit smoking. And working with University of Toronto, they had a data center, Otru, to be able to look at the data because at the time, there was a lot of pushback restaurants, for example, were concerned that they were going to lose business. So Otru was able to provide us with data that could be used with decision makers to show the guests one in the US where smoke free bylaws were introduced. In fact, restaurant visitation increased, you know that this was a threat to people’s well being. We also were launching at the time a healthy eating Active Living strategy that Sheila had secured money so that we could focus on healthy eating and being physically active. So part of the work would involve working across the ministry with different teams, okay, for the group in sports and recreation, what are those initiatives going to look like? How do we get a phone line off the ground working with the dieticians of Canada that can give people advice around healthy eating? And then her third initiative was around injury prevention, and bringing together a different injury prevention stakeholders from across the province to talk about where do we need to focus? What should that look like? So a lot of it is that interacting with external groups who are also committed to the similar issues, also connecting with those that may not be in agreement to try to make sure we’re understanding their concerns, working with a team to support them as they’re trying to get initiatives off the ground and working with other ministries. I remember connecting with the Ministry of Labor, because we were trying to look at workplace wellness issues and how we could use that workplace setting as a way to also promote health and wellness. I think the skills that are really helpful when you work in government, there are those communication skills, a lot of work is done through, you know, written briefs and memos. I remember doing presentations, we had quite a turnover and deputy ministers explaining to those that had no background, for example, in chronic disease prevention, you know, why it’s important, why can that make a difference? So those written and oral communication skills, and again, being able to bring people together to hear their ideas and find a way to synthesize that, and then a lot of that planning in terms of okay, we’ve got to get this done very quickly. Who do we need to call on to try to make this all come together?

Sujani 14:16
Fascinating. It just find it so surreal, you know, you’re talking about all of these policies that you were part of bringing into the province of Ontario. And I’m thinking back to you know, where was I at that time, and I was probably in high school. And these are things that I think take for granted, thinking back to a time where smoking was allowed in restaurants. And I don’t think I remember stepping into restaurants where I did notice people smoking at the time. So I think it’s- it’s thanks to all the great work of all the public health practitioners that did all that heavy lifting, and it just feels surreal when you’re talking about you know, you just worked on that and earliest 2005 and up until then these policies didn’t exist.

Pegeen 14:58
Well, and again, I’m not so thinking of myself, because so many others had been the champions, you know, I’m thinking of those that were working in a nonprofit organizations, and a lot of social change is led from the outside pushing in, if you will. And for those of us working in government, we’re trying to bring people together, we’re trying to influence our policymakers, we’re trying to, you know, bring all the pieces together. And so I think we often don’t see ourselves necessary as those champions, but is it safe to say, because when I started in government back in, you know, the early 80s, I remember someone smoking in the office and my colleagues and I tried to convince them that it was very uncomfortable for us. And they were sort of like, too bad.

Sujani 15:38

Pegeen 15:39
What did you say? Now, we take a lot of these things for granted. And I’ve also I had a fascinating role with YMCA, Canada as their Director of Public Policy. And that really gave me time to reflect on, you know, how do you affect social change? And I came up with this model look, thinking back on different initiatives I had been involved with, and really concluded that there is no one thing. It’s about a whole range of things that can come together. And as I was trying to think about, you know, do I want to keep building my current government or in the nonprofit sector? And where can I make the most change, and I concluded that it doesn’t really matter where you are, it’s about what you can do with the position that you have, because all of these parts need to work together to affect change.

Sujani 16:19
Yeah, those are wise words, I think often in public health, when you’re working on a project for a number of years, and you’re not able to see the impact or kind of the change in front of your eyes, and it can feel a bit defeating. And I had a manager who gave me this analogy of like, public health can feel like this huge boulder that everyone’s just trying to push and push and push, and we just have to keep pushing. And one day, it will pick up a bit of momentum, and it’ll start rolling, but we can’t stop pushing. And that’s kind of the analogy that I have to keep reminding myself when I do feel frustrated that I’m not seeing the fruits of our labor at some times.

Pegeen 16:57
Well, so interesting you mentioned that because I was thinking back again, after 43 years, in the workforce, and at different points, I did feel like I’m usually a very optimistic, you know, upbeat person. And at different points, I did feel discouraged. And I think that’s important to recognize when that’s happening to you. Because sometimes I do find people get a bit stuck, where they’re feeling very disempowered, and they’re feeling like, you know, same old, same old, or we’ve all worked at this, and we’re not able to affect change, I found that different points when I was feeling discouraged, then I tried to switch it up. And I was very fortunate with the federal government, you can go on a program called interchange Canada, that allows you to step out of your role work for another organization, and then come back, for example, when we first moved to Toronto, I was able to go and interchange with the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat. And that was a very exciting time when the government was in power, Ontario, and they were going down a path of self government. So that was very energizing. And then I also mentioned how I stepped out and worked for two years with YFC Canada, which helped me see wow, you know what, there’s lots you can do in the nonprofit sector. But also I had more power and influence in government than I realized at the time. So I think that ability to appreciate when you’re, you’re not at your best, and also realize, hey, you know, I’m in charge here. Like, if I’m not getting the most out of my career, what am I going to do about it, rather than feeling that, like, at the time, I was seeing, like, Oh, I’m just a cog in this big wheel and what to do, and then stepping out allowed me to see like, wow, there’s actually lots you can do. And so when I came back into my role, I just felt that sense of energy and wanting to carry on, you know, trying innovative things and seeing what I could do to keep my team engaged and focused on those broader goals.

Sujani 18:46
I think on a personal level, too, when you step out, you can look at yourself and see, okay, there are some skills that I didn’t get to use my pastoral that I actually have, and you’re kind of reminded of your own strengths. And I think that also is probably part of the re-nergizing phase. I suppose.

Pegeen 19:04
It’s interesting, you raised that because I was thinking back how at different times, there are different tools out there that help you analyze your thinking style, your character, what have you, like, I’ve used that tool, 360 reviews, there’s something called one smart world. And they allowed me to have these insights and appreciate okay, I can be excellent at everything. What is it that are my talents, my special talents? And how do I really build on those versus feeling discouraged about the things that I don’t do as well. So I think that ability to take time to reflect on yourself at different points, really helps to then point you in a direction that’s going to be a really good fit with not only your passions, but your talents, the things that seem to come more easily for you and it does take time to recognize that because I’ve met new professionals, they’re like, Okay, like, I’ll just do anything help me I’m trying to do my career, like any topic, any kind of role, but it’s these easier for me as well to help people when they do have that sense of like, I remember one young woman, she said, you know, I really want to build a career in reproductive health. That’s my passion. And yet she had no background in that at all. So I gave her all kinds of suggestions about ways that she could build her expertise and make connections. And then it’s really exciting. She came back to me years later and said, Hey, I did all those things, as suggested, and guess what I now have a role. I think she’s working at Women’s College Hospital now.

Sujani 20:25
Oh that’s wonderful. Yeah.

Pegeen 20:27
You need to take time and really reflect and analyze, you know, who am I? What am I good at? What are my strengths, and it does evolve and change over time.

Sujani 20:35
It’s a good segue into something else I want to chat about. And I think we spoke about this before we started recording is another kind of passion of yours is supporting early professionals in sort of career planning and coaching. And if I were to ask you based on your 43 years of experience, and everything that you’ve been able to see and do, and somebody is coming to you and asking you, you know, what is the number one advice you would have for me, as I step into career in public health? What would that be?

Pegeen 21:06
To show initiative. I think often people are feeling a bit nervous when they’re starting a role. And then they are thinking like, oh, I have to ask permission, or I’m not sure. Should I do this? Should I not do this? And so they’re asking for a lot of guidance, which is important. But I think you also want to stand out. And the way you can stand out is to understand your organization. What is it they’re grappling with? What are their priorities? And to show that sense of ownership that okay, this is how I’m going to contribute to the organization’s mission. And can I go above and beyond, for example, I’ve had employees who will notice chipping in, you look like you have a lot on your plate? Is there anything I can do to help you? So they’re going outside of their role, if you will, but they’re showing like, Hey, I’m committed this organization, and I want to see it succeed. I think another thing is offering those creative suggestions to say, Well, hey, I noticed that you guys are dealing with this issue. And have you ever thought about looking at it this way, I’m like, Oh, my gosh, that’s so helpful. So again, not something that’s in your role, but showing that you’re thinking broadly about the organization and where it’s headed. Another thing I’ve seen, that works very well is taking on something for example, I remember this young woman, and we were looking for someone to lead our United Way campaign. And it’s something that, you know, I’ve been involved with others have been involved with, and it’s just, it’s a lot of heavy lifting, and can feel very discouraging. And this young woman, she stepped up said, hey, I’ll do that, which was a very more senior role, and no one else was coming forward. So the management team is like, okay, let’s, let’s ask her to take it on. And by the end of it, you know, she had met the, what, 140 people in our ministry, and everybody knew her. And she brought this incredible energy and creativity and mobilize people and, you know, surpassed our targets, and what have you, that always stands out to me how, you know, she took that risk of taking on something that most people just thought this is just way above and beyond, and how’s that going to advance my career. And as a result, it did catapult her into, you know, a promotional opportunity in another ministry, because it’s all about the kinds of skills that you’re gaining, not necessarily, I mean, obviously, the topic area is so critical in raising funds for those important agencies. But she brought this incredible zest and excitement to the role and, and got other people engaged. So I think sometimes people are hesitant if there’s some cross organizational initiative to get involved because they have a lot on their plate. But it can really pay off for you because you get that visibility into the range of skills and talents that you’re bringing.

Sujani 23:32
And then you get to exercise a different set of skills that you probably don’t get to during your, I guess, you know, quote, unquote, day job.

Pegeen 23:40
I think the other quality is that quality of being very curious, because I’ve also seen where, you know, you’re suggesting to someone, you know, how to talk or something, and then implement it and others may come back. So, you know, I’ve been thinking about what you asked me to do. And I was thinking, what if we did it this way, instead of the way you’re suggesting, or, I’m concerned, because as I’m delving into this, I’m learning this, or I’m learning that and again, I’ve always appreciated people who are, you know, because perhaps, as this the person giving direction, I haven’t spent enough time, you know, analyzing in depth, so that ability to be very analytical and strategic, and then to come back and offer alternate ways of doing things. So I remember different employers that are having this setup, again, we love your can do attitude. So on the one hand, I think it is helpful to be analytical and critical to also point out like, I’m concerned about this, or I think this may not work, but to show that, hey, I’m also solution oriented, so I’m not just flagging to what’s not working well, but I’m trying to offer suggestions about how we can make something happen. And I think in most organizations, it’s all about, you know, getting results, getting things done. So to have people on your team who are committed to try to contribute and make things happen, those people certainly stand out.

Sujani 24:54
And I think you know, for early professionals, it can feel like a lot to step up. And, you know, show your curiosity and take initiative and kind of suggest a different way of doing something in an organization that you’re a new member, I certainly remember kind of my first, you know, quote unquote, official public health job and just being curious, but in my head always wondering, why are they doing it this way? Maybe we should do it this way. But then not feeling bold enough or courageous enough to suggest that to individuals who have been around for, say, 10 years, right. So yeah, I don’t know, if you have advice in terms. I mean, like, now, when I look back, I would tell my younger self, you know, you should have just said, what was on your mind and just, you know, presented it in a way that was more collaborative and not questioning the way things have been done. But I’m curious to hear your advice in terms of yeah, how would you suggest someone who’s like brand new in public health suggesting a new way of doing something to maybe a more seasoned public health practitioner?

Pegeen 25:57
That’s such a good question. Because here I’m saying, Oh, you really want to step up. And as about different interactions I’ve had, sometimes people might be defensive, because I’ve spent a lot of time doing this. So I think it is, you mentioned this word collaborative. And I think when you think about public health, that is at the crux of how everything needs to happen, if you will, because there’s very little that can be done with one individual. So if you do have some suggestions, I think it’s all about how you nuanced that. So rather than saying, like, you know, you’re wrong, that’s not going to work. No one really wants to hear that. But if you say, gee, you know, as I was looking at this, I noticed this, I noticed that and I was thinking, what if we tried it this way? Or is this something that might work? Or have you considered this, I think, to think about the language that you use, so it feels supportive and inclusive, rather than being kind of critical and attacking. So I think that’s then easier to hear. Another thing I was thinking I was mentioning about this tool called one smart world, and it really analyzes people’s thinking style. So for example, I’m a very green thinker, which means that I’m always thinking about possibilities. And what if this, and what if that, and then some people are very red thinkers, where they think about, well, how much is that going to cost? And how long will that take? What are the steps to do that. And so I think also understanding and trying to analyze a few other people you’re working with. So for example, I had a boss that was very red boss. So if I went in, I was like, hey, you know what, here’s something I think would be amazing. If we did this really make a difference. And that person wanted the details and the facts. So then I would learn to go in, even though I was excited about something and passionate, I would go in, you know, here’s an initiative, this is the steps that we would take this was how much it would cause this is the results that others have bound. So to also put yourself in the other person’s shoes to think, Okay, how are they looking at things? And if I want to get them on board, what kind of language and approach am I going to use to influence them?

Sujani 27:47
I kind of learned that very recently, where, you know, realize one of my managers is more of a visual learner. And so every time I would go to him, it would be, you know, slide decks, mock ups, just to give them the art of the possible right, to say, Okay, this is what this project could look like, if you are supportive of it. So yeah, no, great advice. I am curious, Pegeen, you know, looking back at the 43 years in the workplace, would you have done anything differently?

Pegeen 28:16
I mentioned to you about studying political science. And if you look back in that era, when I joined government, you had a lot of people who are deputy ministers, and they had an honours undergraduate degree like me. So now it’s very different field, you know, people have a lot of credentials. And on the one hand, you know, credentials is not the answer to everything. At one point in my career, especially when I was heading up the regional office for public health beaches in Canada, I chatted with different public health leaders around whether or not to do a master’s in public health. And the other thing I was really passionate about was wanting to do a master’s in leadership. And at the time, the course there were very few courses in Canada and the one that was really outstanding was at Royal Roads University, but would have meant having to fly out to Victoria for the in house learning. And my daughter was very young at the time, and I just felt this is really not feasible. Yeah, so I do have mixed feelings about not having gotten a master’s degree and- and then I was struggling with well, okay, are you just going to do that master’s in public health because you want the credential. But as I looked at the course content, I’m like, wow, I’ve already done these things. And I remember one gentleman said, just read my textbook. You don’t know you’re doing it. You don’t need to study it. Yeah. But I think that’s one thing and even to this day, I still thinking about leadership and are there ways I think continue to contribute in terms of because that’s an area I really enjoyed is coaching and mentoring others and helping people with their career journey and, and then my own continuing learning and studying and so that’s something I’m picking. Is it too late to go back and do my master’s in leadership, for example, or public health? Yeah, and of course, there’s, when I think about regrets, I’m someone who, you know, has an intense feelings. And some of the hardest decisions I made along the way had to do with people. And so, you know, if I were to do things over, it would be more about interactions with people or, you know, lack of support or poor communication or ways that I feel, you know, I could have done better by those that whether I was working with them or working with groups, you know, outside of the organization. So.

Sujani 30:25
And what do you mean by just like better communication? Do you mean, you would have found ways to engage with them a lot more and finding the time, is that what you mean?

Pegeen 30:36
You’ve touched on a really tough topic, because in a leadership role, you know, you often have to make tough decisions. For example, I had one, one manager, who people just really had difficulty with their leadership style. And I thought, this individual is incredibly talented, brilliant, infact. But I could see that the person was really struggling around being able to engage with their team. And as we were doing our restructuring, this gentleman asked me, Well, where do you see me in this new structure, and I said, you know, I do not see you in a leadership role anymore. And this person had been in leadership roles for many, many years. So I was able to find a special assignment where this person just shone and did phenomenal work. And when a person retired, I went to their retirement party and outside groups came and just raved about how this person had made a huge impact in the issue that they were trying to bring forward. And then one of the person’s former employee stood up and said, you know, you were an amazing colleague, and you inspired me, but you weren’t a great boss. So I thought, wow, you know, I made I made the right decision, but it just really struggled whenever you’re, you know, having to convey something that you know, the other person is going to be disappointed about. That’s just really, really tough.

Sujani 31:52
Well, thank you. Thank you for sharing that, despite it being a difficult topic. And now you’re in retirement. And so I guess congratulations first, I know, you’re just a few months into retirement. But what do you hope that this next chapter of your career will look like?

Pegeen 32:10
Well, thanks for the good wishes, if you will, there were a number of things that I’ve had underway at Ontario Public Health Association. So I’m continuing as a volunteer. So for example, we’re really excited. We’ve just confirmed a three year agreement with the learning Richmond Foundation, and I’ve been leading a course, that’s a bridging program for foreign trained physicians, so many of them want to work as doctors in Ontario, but there are very few residency opportunities. So the original foundation, which works with a lot of newcomers in the Toronto area, and they approached OPHA and said, Look, could you design a course that could allow these health professionals to bridge into other kinds of careers and public health or health promotion or health education? So I just completed the fifth group of individuals who’ve been through this course. And so each time I do it, I keep adding to it and thinking other ways to make that course even more effective. So that’s something that I do see myself carrying on with I’m also doing some public health consulting as a way to help generate revenue for the Ontario Public Health Association. And I’m also started something around looking at a leadership course, in the US, they have a public health leadership Institute’s. And when I was at OPHA, we did a lot of research to find out how these worked in the US I speak spoke to a woman who got one off the ground in the US. And that is something I’m still thinking, Oh, other ways that I can contribute. Earlier this week, I was part of a webinar series with the National Collaborating Centre for determinants of health, featuring a book chapter that I contributed to called Promoting the Health of older adults. And so I talked about the role of public health in promoting healthy aging. And the more I worked on that book chapter, and then spoke about it this week, I thought, Wow, this was such a critical issue. In public health, rightly so there’s a huge focus on early child development. But as base that aging population, you know, why can’t we build more age friendly communities? Why can’t we support people to age in place? Now, sadly, in the last couple years, I’ve been through supporting my uncle, so they didn’t have children of their own. And one of them was in long term care, and other one was able to stay in her home. And then these were all people in their 90s. And sadly, my dad just passed away last year, as did my aunt. And so it’s just got me thinking about the difference there. My dad went canoeing at 92 of the last day of his life, you know, so what a way to be, you know, he was a terrific inspiration model a practice all those healthy behaviors and social connection and positive outlook on life and volunteering. And yeah, so there’s, that’s all to say, I’ve just been mulling over what’s going to be my focus or this next several decades, and then in the career planning as I was saying to I have a number of people reach out to me and I’ve been coaching them through interviews and what have you. So.

Sujani 34:56
Such an inspiration, Pegeen, and I think I’ll have have to grab those links and share, you know, that book chapter as well as the work that you’re doing with the Learning Enrichment Foundation was it?

Pegeen 34:56
So it’s called the Learning Enrichment Foundation. That’s right. So they have a bridging program and all kinds of other terrific initiatives that people could get involved with and volunteer. And the book is called Promoting the Health of older adults the Canadian experience. Years ago, I met herb rumen, he had created the Center for Health Promotion at the University of Toronto, which sadly, no longer exists any also collaborate with Peggy Edwards, who’s a longtime health promotion champion, Melanie Levasseur, and Francis Gutenberg. And so together, they put together this textbook, which is about 600 pages and covers the various aspects of, you know, people’s models, ideas and thoughts about how to promote health of older adults,

Sujani 35:45
Right, I’m gonna have to find that and put that link in our show notes for others to also read. And I’m also going to add, Pegeen, that I’ll have you back on the podcast when you do look into that master’s of leadership or another master’s program, because it’s never too late. Thank you so much, Pegeen, for joining us on this podcast and just for sharing all the great experiences that you’ve had. Wonderful 43 years in the workforce, and I can’t wait to, you know, continue seeing the work that you’re doing as a volunteer at the Ontario Public Health Association, as well as with some other organizations.

Pegeen 36:26
Well, thanks. It’s been a pleasure. And on a final note, I guess for those that are building their career at whatever stage that it is- Yeah, to not hesitate to reach out and I remember people get frustrated, interact with people in government, I said, you know, you’re always find someone who wants to be helpful. So even if you’re reaching out and you’re fine, people are not being helpful. I think just keep knocking on those doors and asking for help asking for advice, sharing your perspectives, and just that curiosity and commitment to continuous learning, I think that can really pay off. So I wish all your listeners the best and happy to make connections. So thanks again for giving me that opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned through my career journey.

Sujani 37:05
Hey, so I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links and information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I wanted to let you know about the career program that we run here at PH SPOT. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about building your dream public health career, then we can help you through this program. It’s an intensive hands on training program for early public health professionals. And this includes recent graduates and students. And you can now join the waitlist at And you’ll be notified when the next cohort opens up. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


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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