As a graduate of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) Canadian Field Epidemiology Program (CFEP) I am often connected with people interested in learning more about the program.
Over the years, I have received and answered a number of questions regarding the program. I have realized that a lot of the questions fall into the following three main categories:
- What is your background? How did you become interested in Field Epidemiology?
- What does a Field Epidemiologist actually do?
- How do I become a Field Epidemiologist? What is the application process like?
Based on the conversations I have had over the years, I have written a three-part series blog to reach more public health professionals and help answer questions they may have about the program!
This blog tackles Question 1.
Field Epidemiology: An Origin Story
I completed my B.A (Honours) in forensic psychology from the University of Saskatchewan. I fully intended to go to graduate school to become a clinical psychologist once I convocated. However, after my undergraduate degree I decided I wanted a break before committing to another five to seven years of school. Using the research skills I had gained during my degree, I obtained a position as a research assistant in a local public health unit in Saskatoon. My plan was to work there for a year and then go back to school to do my master’s degree in psychology.
To my surprise,one year quickly turned into six! I loved public health as soon as I started. I liked the variety of topics that public health covered – I was working on influenza, health equity, HIV/AIDS, STIs and immunization, among other subject matters. I also realized that I had always been interested in public health, I just hadn’t known what the field was called or the job opportunities that were available. I had actually never heard of an epidemiologist prior to starting my position in public health in 2006.
During my second year as a research assistant I had the opportunity to work with a field epidemiologist who had been placed with our unit through CFEP. I was not familiar with the program, but after learning about it from her, and seeing the interesting work she was a part of, I knew I wanted to apply. However, I was missing a key component of the eligibility requirements: a master’s degree.
So, back to school I went. Instead of pursuing a degree in psychology, I completed my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the University of Saskatchewan over a period of three years while continuing to work for the local public health unit. During my MPH I completed two practicums: one in Regina with Health Canada’s First Nations Inuit Health Branch and one in Ottawa with PHAC’s Travel Health Division. I made many useful contacts during my practicums and was introduced to new subject areas. I strongly encourage anyone completing a master’s degree to complete multiple practicums, if possible. Nothing beats applied experience and the connections you make are invaluable while moving forward in your career.
After my second practicum, I returned to Saskatoon where I continued to work at the local public health unit, and as a research coordinator for a local HIV/AIDS research group.
CFEP continued to be my goal. Since applications are only posted once a year in the fall for a start date of the following September, I had to be patient. I also knew the program was very competitive – there was a high chance I would not be accepted on my first try (though I was very determined to keep trying for as long as it took). Therefore, in the meantime I had been applying for any and all epidemiology positions I saw across Canada.
One of these applications was for an epidemiologist position with the local health authority in Winnipeg, covering a maternity leave. I didn’t think I would get an interview, let alone be offered the position, but that is exactly what happened. I was thrilled with the offer, but I was also apprehensive about leaving my family and friends and moving to Winnipeg. Thankfully, I was able to see that this was a great opportunity to build my career and so I packed up my car and drove the nine hours to my new home in Winnipeg.
I worked in Winnipeg as an epidemiologist for a year, focusing primarily on influenza and tuberculosis surveillance. During this time, I was finally able to apply to CFEP. More than nine months after applying, on a Friday at approximately 4:30pm, I received a phone call with the news I had been dreaming of and working towards for the past five years: I would be part of Cohort 39 of the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program!
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For more information on the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program, please visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/public-health-practice/canadian-field-epidemiology-program.html