Towards the end of my University career and into the real world, I knew my passion was to work in public health. However, I was unsure of the path to get me there. My Anthropology background had prepared me with a holistic perspective and theoretical understandings, and I thought this would be sufficient. I started applying to jobs online, and was getting rejected left and right due to my lack of experience. My new university degree was not going to get me a job as soon as I thought. I started to brainstorm my next step; how could I get experience if nobody would hire me in the first place?
And this was the beginning of my journey.
After many months of sending out resumes and receiving no interest, I turned towards something I did not think I would be doing — volunteering. With student loans knocking at my door, and the anticipation of working full time after school, this was not something I was ready to dive into. When I applied to volunteer at a local non-profit organization that keeps seniors independent as long as possible, I did not realize how much the next year would prepare me for the real world.
There are three major points I wished I had known as I entered the working field to begin my public health impact:
The importance of volunteering
Volunteering is a great way to make a lasting impact. Whether it be within your community or abroad, or at an NGO or grass-roots organization, volunteering opens doors to understanding issues from a deeper level. My experience volunteering introduced me to community members with mental illness. It has also provided me with various integral community development and health promoting strategies. It allowed me to understand the social factors that go along with health and how they work hand-in-hand. Volunteering will provide you with experience to improve your interpersonal skills and network with other professionals; and not to mention, a handy addition to your resume when applying to jobs or graduate programs. Volunteering will also mould your interests for the future, and help you get a foot in the door to apply to positions within the company or organization you are volunteering at.
Your interests will change!
Over time, your early experiences volunteering or working in public health settings will shape how you look at public health as a whole, and impact your fit within the field. Your interests will change and that is expected. There are so many paths within the realm of public health itself, and it really just boils down to what part you would fit into. Whether it be providing advocacy to low income seniors, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or working with refugees in your community, you will get an idea of the type of demographic and systematic gaps that you would be interested in filling.
Confidence is Key
Having a social science background, I spend a lot of time explaining my program, its significance, what I learned, and how it is relevant to what I was working in. This was a great opportunity to showcase my skills and how it would benefit the position I was applying for, and set me apart from other applicants. Having the confidence to do this, and showing that there is no single, straight path to entering public health, will benefit you in the long run. Although having confidence is easier said than done, it will allow you to step outside of your boundaries and enable you to meet people, network and learn more about your field. It is beneficial to always be improving and do not be afraid to ask questions. Your degree is supplementary to your experiences. Step outside of your boundaries and go beyond what is expected, and you will be able to succeed in whatever your path has in store.