How to carve a niche in your public health career

When I meet with fellow public health students, I often hear them asking questions like, “Should we focus or broaden our skill-set?” or “Is it necessary to have an in-depth knowledge in a content area to get that job you love?” or “What skills do I need to get that policy job at the ministry?”

Often times, as early career professionals, we tend to focus on getting that first job or getting to the next job. However, instead of committing yourself to just advance in your career, it’s important to first do some self-reflection and identify what speaks to you – and then go out to pursue that.

Below are strategies to help you find your niche – some that I have learned from other public health professionals and some that I’ve learned from my own experiences.

Find What Matters To You

If you’re already pursuing your education or career in public health, the chances are that you’re passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of communities and populations. However, to find your passion within the public health field, it’s important to ask yourself, “What matters to me and why?”

Early on, I realized that having an impact on a wide-scale level matters the most to me. I wanted to develop public health policies that have a magnitudinal impact on our society. With this realization, I decided to question myself further and ask WHY does it matter to me? Is it just something I read and was influenced by it, or is it something that I believe in with all my heart? This question was important to ask because I wanted to make sure that my passion had a purpose. Having purpose helps you to connect to your work, no matter how mundane it may be. Having purpose helps you to nurture and cultivate your passion in a long-term and sustainable fashion.

Make Your Passion Your Way of Life

Figuring out your passion and purpose is one thing, but building yourself to be an expert in that area is another. Once you know what gets you up in the morning, it’s important to make a plan to start living your passion. In my case, I started to build myself into a public health policy expert. For instance, I did both my masters placements within the policy sector, enrolled in a public health policy fellowship, and participated in various webinars and conferences to build an understanding of the policy world. Through this, I realized that gaining experience in your field of interest through various opportunities not only helps you learn more about the particular topic, but also helps you look at it from multiple perspectives and angles.

Develop Your Own Style

Although it’s important to make yourself an expert in your area of interest, I can’t stress the importance of diversifying your skill-set in a way that helps you stand out from everyone else. For instance, within the policy world, the abilities to incorporate evidence into policy-making and monitor its outcomes are becoming very essential. When I graduated, I was really committed to building my career within the traditional policy development realm. However, somehow I ended up in research and evaluation roles. Little did I know then, that combining my policy experience with research and evaluation would end up being invaluable. My passion for policy eventually brought me back to the policy world; but my experience in research and evaluation is helping me critically assess the evidence behind the policies I’m responsible for developing and advocate for continuous monitoring and evaluation of those policies to ensure that they are working well.

Put It All Together

The last and final step is putting it all together. When you land that interview for your dream job, talk about what your passions are, what you have done to make yourself an expert in that field of interest, and other unique experiences that set you apart from everyone else.

Build a story to prove why you’re perfect for that job or that field of work.

Success comes when opportunity meets preparation.


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