A Day in the Life of a Community Health Nurse and MBA student, Brandon Kober

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On this week’s episode, Sujani speaks with Brandon Kober, a community health nurse, who is currently pursuing his MBA. Brandon explains the role of a harm reduction nurse and discusses his own personal journey of discovering his career interests and how he got to where he is today.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What working in the area of harm reduction may entail and the challenges and rewards of working in this field
  • What the everyday responsibilities and activities of a harm reduction nurse may entail
    • What skills are necessary for this field of work.
    • What skills can be gained from this field of work.
  • Advice that Brandon has for others interested in working in this area and/or in a similar capacity
  • The benefits of pursuing an MBA in addition to healthcare training
    • What skills can be learned from this area of study
    • What opportunities can open up from this combination
  • How nurses and people working in public health can learn from the business world and vice versa

Today’s Guest:

Brandon Kober is a Registered Nurse with a passion for public and community health, particularly in the burgeoning field of harm reduction. He has worked at supervised consumption facilities in Toronto and Hamilton, having managed the latter site through the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. This experience led him to pursue an MBA at the DeGroote School of Business to diversify his skills and allow him to take on greater levels of responsibility. He is currently working as an independent healthcare consultant, is the Board Chair of a peer-led social service non-profit, and is looking to summer 2022 for meaningful employment opportunities that help people most in need.

Episode Transcript

Brandon 0:00
Public health is a great option. And I try and just express that to people. Like if you’re feeling inclined to go in that direction, do it, put your whole heart into it and just do it and I think you’ll be rewarded.

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.

Hey, everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight, a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. Today, I am excited to bring you another Day in the Life series. And today’s episode is with a public health nurse. His name is Brandon Kober. And you’ll not only get to hear about his work as a public health nurse, but also about his experience being an MBA student while working as a nurse. And so here’s our conversation. I hope you enjoy it.

Hey, Brandon, thanks so much for joining us on the PHSpot podcast and welcome.

Brandon 1:18
Thank you so much, happy to be here.

Sujani 1:20
Amazing. So, you know, funny thing, I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn and your name came up, I can’t remember exactly who commented or liked on one of your competitions that I guess you had done with your colleagues for your MBA program. And then I saw a brief synopsis of your background, and it’s like you’re a nurse, and then you were also doing your MBA, and I had never heard of anyone who had a nursing background and also went into an MBA. So you know, your background was super impressive. And so I messaged Kelsey, and I was like, okay, we need to get Brandon on the podcast just to like hear his story. Because, as you know, with PH SPOT, we try to cover various different paths that one could take for their public health journey. And so really excited to hear about yours. So again, welcome. And thank you for spending Saturday afternoon with us.

Brandon 2:12
When the weather outside is frightful, I guess. Right?

Sujani 2:15
Yeah. You know, you are in harm reduction. And as I mentioned, you’re a nurse. So we’ll get into kind of the MBA portion of your career and the journey that you took to get there. But why did you get interested in like public health and nursing? Maybe we can start with that?

Brandon 2:34
Yeah, absolutely. So, I had intentions coming out of high school actually going to med school, like a lot of people. And I did kinesiology first, which gave a good background on kind of like social determinants of health, a bit more, you know, high level policy, programmatic approaches to improving people’s health, of course, and I didn’t get into med school immediately. And so I pursued nursing as kind of a backup thinking, you know, okay, I’ll complement it with more of that frontline exposure to actual patient care. And, you know, you feel like you’re getting to know the lingo and the dynamics within like a hospital. And pretty quickly, I realized that actually, frontline nursing and more of a downstream hospital situation, or med school was just not right for me with so I’m really glad I had that and didn’t kind of go down that path. Unnecessarily, I really realized that I wanted to be in more of a community setting or public health setting where I was preventing people from getting up ending in hospital. Because too often as a nursing student, I felt that it was taking a toll on my own kind of emotional, mental health, seeing people who just genuinely didn’t want to be there. We need hospitals, of course, but I think it’d be nice to interact with people at a level that, you know, they might want to be speaking with you that day, or you’re preventing them from ending up in a worse state. So I really preferred that kind of upstream approach, or whatever it was, if that was, you know, community health and nursing, just working with people before they end up in that space, or in a public health kind of more policy approach that creates safer conditions for- for folks. So I’m glad I realized that fairly quickly. And then kind of the harm reduction angle of that is kind of more rooted in my personal values. So I’m just like, inherently a very like political person, they feel you know that I want to see the world run a certain way and that everyone has intrinsic value, and that we just don’t equitably provide resources for everyone in society. So harm reduction was presented as just a really interesting kind of intersection of all these crises, right? You have overdose and opioid crisis, you have like the housing affordability crisis. And then like, you know, long term we’re gonna see the impact of climate change on people as well. As well as all issues of identity and intersectionality. So it’s, it’s just a really interesting and like pressing issue. You know, there’s a lot of fields out there that have been around for decades and decades as public health issues, maybe it’s tuberculosis or smoking cessation. But this just felt a bit more acute. And a lot would require a lot of political advocacy, which was something I was really interested in. So out of nursing school, I did my final placement at Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit with their harm reduction team, which is a really great experience and getting kind of that policy level approach to harm reduction. And dealing with substance use issues a bit different because this isn’t very, and it’s very, I would say a bit behind of course, like Toronto and Vancouver, they kind of lead the charge in Canada, with every other community kind of following suit very slowly and gradually. So Barry had a long way to come and still does. And we were just kind of dealing with basic things like needle exchange. And the thought of opening a safe injection site or CTS in Barry was definitely someone we were advocating for, but getting a lot of public pushback against. But all of that was happening at a very policy level, which is great, but it’s like kind of a bit slower, a bit bureaucratic. And then I wanted to, you know, get into something that was a bit more tactile right out of nursing school. So I was fortunate to get a full time job immediately with Fred Victor, which has one of the busiest safe injection sites in Toronto at Queen and Jarvis. And that was great. It was just, you know, thrown into the trenches immediately, being the busiest, busiest or second busiest depending on how you measure it. injection site in Toronto. And just fully, note this is the lived experience of people right now living in these like dense urban areas dealing with substance use issues and the opioid crisis and houselessness. So it was just extremely interesting and engaging and rewarding. And I met some of the best friends I’ve ever had, like, I’m currently staying with my friend in Toronto, who I met through that job. And now we’re, we’re there for life. We’re bonded over that kind of shared experience. So I made the right choice for sure. And choosing something that, again, was just focused on people who are most need, and that there was like a political motivation behind it that no, like, we need to be fighting for folks who are experiencing these challenges, not only on the front lines, but at like a policy level as well.

Sujani 7:41
That’s super interesting. I do want to come back to kind of finding a career that’s rooted in your core values. And we’ll, we’ll come back to that, because it’s very interesting. And you mentioned that you like quickly figured out that quote, unquote, the bedside nursing like that frontline clinical work wasn’t something for you. And it sounds like you discovered that during your program, right? Because you didn’t come out working in a hospital setting. And so that discovery, I guess it- Was that just something that came to you kind of overnight, or is that you know, the first- first time you stepped into that role? And you’re like, okay, this is not for me, it was that gradual.

Brandon 8:18
It was a bit of a gradual thing. Like I, I think I realized pretty quickly like, okay, like maybe this is just the experience of being a nursing student that I don’t really love. But I guess like the patient populations, I just didn’t find particularly engaging, dealing, particularly with, you know, older older folks with a lot of chronic issues. When you’re put on like a medical floor or some surgical floors, depending on what it is in a hospital. You don’t feel like you’re making them better necessarily. I hear this also from my my partner who is finishing med school. And whenever he would have an internal medicine rotation, he would just feel I wouldn’t say defeated at the end of the day, just like what were we really doing? It’s kind of like, here’s some pills, we will you know, monitor your electrolytes and make sure you’re within a range. But are we actually dealing with any root causes? Like no, you’re probably gonna be living with this the rest of your life, the prognosis isn’t great. And like the attitudes that the clients or patients would have, there’s not a lot of hope in that regard. They don’t love that. And that would kind of trickle into the providers that perhaps you don’t feel like you’re having as big of an impact to prevent people from getting to that situation. As well, just generally, like aesthetically, hospitals are just not attractive. The- I would say kind of drab, dark and dirty, that smelly. And that’s something I have such respect for people who buy that environment and want to do that work. It just wasn’t me. And you know, like, that sounds like a really great and fulfilling career. But also something I just wanted a bit more of a work life balance that didn’t have me working like overnight shifts. And we’ve seen it with COVID, right, like hospital nurses in particular, they just don’t get treated as well as they should. And it was just strategic and perhaps like, you know, reasonably self serving that I avoided that kind of lifestyle in favor of something a bit more community based nine to five, like looking for something that would provide the best of both worlds. Yeah, the hospital just wasn’t for me, and full respect and more respect for nurses and physicians who can do that, yeah.

Sujani 10:31
No, it sounds like a good reflection went into that decision. And, you know, often the people that I’ve spoken to whether they were nurses, dentists, doctors, it took them a few years kind of working in the field to discover that they wanted to go into public health. So I think, for me to hear from you that you kind of had that discovery within your training was is quite impressive. So congratulations on figuring that out very early.

Brandon 10:56
Also, it’s a difficult culture to override as well, because when you’re in nursing school, it might speak to like a broader systemic issue that I’m sure you’re very well aware of talking with public health professionals, and being one yourself is that everything is tailored towards that like tertiary and quaternary, like hospital setting, that people will end up in. And, of course, we always speak about working upstream. But that thought process I don’t think has really penetrated like, nursing education, or perhaps physician education can’t speak to that, but nursing, and it was just tailored for you to work in hospital, understandably, what 80-90% of the jobs that nurses will be offered will be in a hospital setting. But that’s just because the system has been set up that way, it could fundamentally shift that you know, more people are working community, therefore, less people are needed in the hospitals because less people get sick. That’s got to happen at some point.

Sujani 11:52
Yeah.

Brandon 11:53
And it’s interesting, because I have that thought. But then in the years since I’m often reached out to as like a resource for Queens, where I went to kinesiology and nursing school, they’ll reach out to me to do like harm reduction education for nursing students. And each time I give that talk, I will get maybe three, five this year, it was like 10, people coming back to me saying, “Wow, I didn’t realize that this existed. School has really just taught me that I have to be a hospital nurse. I didn’t know I could be a community or public health nurse. And I think I’m going to do it.” And it was like a bit of like a a risk on my part when I was even choosing where to do my last placement for nursing school. Because typically that placement is reserved for where do you want to work? Do you were to- want to work in a cardiology floor, or cancer or pediatrics, maternity something? But they’re trying to tell you to go into a hospital because of reasonable things like oh, that’s where most jobs will be. And that’s where you’re going to maintain your skills and kind of your harder skills that you learned in nursing school that I surely have lost by now. But everyone was telling me, “Don’t do public health, there’s no jobs in it, like it’s difficult to get into, you’ll lose all your skills.” It was a risk. I’m really glad I did that. Just because I couldn’t see myself, I would not have been able to like live my values or stomach working in a hospital setting. It just wasn’t for me. And I hope that more people are willing to take that risk. Like I don’t want to speak from a point of survivorship bias that because it worked for me, it works for everyone. But right now, during COVID, there’s a lot of opportunities for nurses wherever and public health is a great option. And I try and just express that to people like if you’re feeling inclined to go in that direction, do it, put your whole heart into it and just do it. And I think you’ll be rewarded.

Sujani 13:49
And I think it’ll be helpful. And we’ll we can get into that a little bit for people to hear what a public health nurse does, you know, versus ones in hospitals. But it sounds to me that then the last practicum that you chose was mostly self driven, because I’m curious to hear whether there are options for nursing students to be placed in public health departments, or is that something that they have to seek out themselves?

Brandon 14:14
At least for Queens where I was, and I believe most schools like they that your placement is kind of reserved for you to tailor it to whatever job you’re hoping to get afterwards as your way in. So they did ask like a preference like, outline your like top three, whatever and a lot of people it was like, you know, want to work at Kingston General Hospital in orthopedic surgery, or cardio- cardiac surgery, or general surgery. That’s a typical person what they would do, but I was like, okay, Toronto Public Health, Simcoe Muskoka public health, Kingston, something like that. And so I just really just went all in on public health and so they were able to do that and people clearly do. Like I know same code typically take a student like once a year, but definitely not as common.

Sujani 15:05
Yeah. And so yeah, as- as a public health nurse or community nurse, I don’t know which title you go by.

Brandon 15:10
I would definitely say I was community, like it was public health for that consolidation place.

Sujani 15:14
Right.

Brandon 15:15
Then it was a community health nurse. Yeah.

Sujani 15:17
Okay, community health nurse. And so what does a day in the life of being a community health nurse look like?

Brandon 15:23
Yeah, I would say it definitely varies where you’re working, you know, harm reduction setting like a safe injection site, because that’s really the only nursing experience I’ve had was working at Fred Victor, and then Hamilton urban core Community Health Center, both in a safe injection site, consumption, treatment service, whatever you want to call it, I’ll just say ETS, just to make it easier. That’s just what Ontario calls them these days. So that environment is very specific. And so a day in the life there is, it’s always every day is pretty different. Just because of the nature of the work, it’s very dynamic and exciting. But it’s very rewarding and wonderful at the same time, a big part of it is that it’s a very nursing led intervention and health service. So it was interesting coming from nursing school directly and being full hired full time, at a place like Fred Victor, I was the only full time RN. And I had no idea what I was doing quickly was trained up by, you know, experienced RPN who is staffed, other RNs who are more like casual or part time. And then like, the host of social workers and pure workers that really knew this stuff inside and out. But it was still, you know, I’m the full time RN, you’re like, the most medically responsible person in the building as a fresh Euro one nurse, it was, yes. But it’s nice in that way, because you just have to, you gotta learn as you go, particularly with such a new like concept and service, you’re free to like, kind of shift and change and think on your feet. Depending on what the day throws at you like, you could immediately decide like, oh, no, this situation is unsafe, we’re closing, or the flow logistically isn’t working. So we’re going to shift how the line works in this way, just so many different dynamics that you have, just think on your feet and come together as like an interdisciplinary team. It’s really neat. But a typical day, depending on the shift is you’re coming in, you’re kind of ensuring that the space is set up appropriately to deliver the service, meaning that you’re well stocked and all your harm reduction supplies, so safe injection equipment, that you have your oxygen tanks ready to go that you have sufficient Naloxone just in case you draw one up and ready to go. Everything’s sterilized for clients to come in. And typically, you would kind of meet as a group and check in with each other to discuss, you know, how have the last couple shifts gone? Are there any clients of note that we should kind of case manage or you know, where the conflicts the past days with be aware, like, “Oh, Bob, and Joe, they haven’t been getting along.” So try and create space between those two people, things like that. And then you open, people would get registered, they come on in, and typically the nurse is sitting in the injection room. And so you’re watching them prepare their injection of whatever illicit substances they brought in with them, and helping them as much as they want or is legally possible, because of course, there’s limitations on that. And providing all the harm reduction education, you can like, “Oh, hey, man, did you remember to swab the site like just with alcohol?”, because that’s like a huge infection risk, safe injection practices, because, you know, it’s not necessarily common sense to everyone how to inject something properly, you’re safely helping them as much as possible. And then of course, monitoring for overdoses or adverse events and then responding accordingly, in which case, the nurse is very much the one like leading that charge, and then all the aftercare involved, but most of the time, 95% of the time, it’s kind of a flow kind of job, people are coming in, you’re making sure that they’re okay. Can I help you in any other way? Okay, they’re on their way. And it’s just that it’s a bit transactional, it’s in and out. And that’s it. In other circumstances, like it could be a longer process of for nurse doing things like wound care or case management or connecting with a physician, dealing with their medications, a lot of mental health medications, and overdose response, of course, in those occasions that it does happen, and then the education that follows there to say, like, “Why’d this happen this time?”. You know, “Was it a new batch on the street? Or did you use more this time?”, “What can we do differently this time?”. Exploring treatment, if that’s something that they’re ready or interested in at that time. And then yeah, you just kind of do that all day. And then at the end of the day, it’s shut down, clean it up and debrief with your team about how to shift one what needs to improve, and then you’re on your way. So there’s a template there that you can feel repetitive, but everyday, it feels very different.

Sujani 20:03
And not knowing too much about the profession. Well, you know, I know it from being a patient, I suppose, and not knowing exactly the kind of skills that you learn on the job as a community health nurse and what you’re taught in school and what a nurse would do within a hospital setting. Do you feel like there were a whole new set of skills that you had to learn for this job being a community health nurse versus what you would have done in the hospital?

Brandon 20:30
Yeah, definitely. Because I would- I describe it to nursing students, when I teach them about it, that it’s very much more soft skills, like the hands off skills are much more important in this style of nursing, those acute skills are extremely necessary, and you have to be very adept at it like the overdose response, intervening early and well, in a harm reducing manner is very important, as well as just kind of general management of things like psychosis or adverse events. But the soft skills are definitely more important. And it was a crash course. Because I came from a town of 700 people growing up, very small, rural Ontario, and then I went to Queens, you know, it’s a fairly affluent community, you’re probably aren’t exposed to like the poverty that does exist in that community. But then, you know, thrown into downtown Toronto, by choice, not thrown in. And then seeing the lived experience people, it was very different. And you kind of, if you’re a walker, you’re just walking by on Queen Street, you know, downtown Toronto, you might not realize that this is happening, and the best ways to approach it. And so it was a crash course. And so many things like street language, like the vernacular to use to be culturally competent, as well as safe and be able to build rapport. Something I kind of sell to students as a reason they should go into this field is really opportunity to speak, how you might want to like, I tend to swear a lot, I can- I can turn it on, of course. But it’s also nice to go into work and not have to not code switch, like you can call a spade a spade and say, like, oh, no, man, that sucks that I don’t want to exploit it. Yeah, so just being yourself is like such a nice asset. But there’s a way to speak in that situation and build rapport. That’s really important. Being aware of like just trauma informed care, you know, what will trigger people you’re, you’re in a very vulnerable state, and when you’re using safe injections, right? So you know, don’t approach people from the back really quietly, like, someone might have trauma of violence, and that could be triggering for them. Or just like, yeah, certain language to avoid, that could be triggering, there’s just like a fine line to walk as well, a crash course, in just the community’s resources that may or may not exist, and that you have to be adept at to connect people to, you know, in a hospital setting, you might just as a nurse, you might just show up. And it’s a lot more about medical management, of course, right? It’s, here’s this person with these vitals these diagnoses, what do I do to manage them and make sure they’re, as well, if not better, by the time my shift ends?

Sujani 23:26
Yeah.

Brandon 23:26
But it’s kind of controlled in this hospital environment. And typically, you do have the resources to access a physician whenever you want, or the pharmacist for questions, or you have supporting staff to, you know, do personal care things, a bit more resourced than in the community health side of things like you’re often in a resource scarce environment. And I would argue, unfortunately, part of the role of a community health nurse or any community health worker is, oh, you’re advocating, you’re managing the client’s needs. And unfortunately, you’re going to become a cog in a machine where there’s just simply not enough resources out there.

Sujani 24:05
Yeah.

Brandon 24:05
So the Crash Course was in understanding what resources are available, but then also coming to terms with the fact that you’re going to have a lot of difficult conversations about “Sorry, man, I have no there’s no shelter beds that exist in the city tonight for me to put you in.”, like having that conversation over and over again. It’s just heartbreaking. So that is yeah, part of the education of learning how much needs to be done on that again, level to create better environments for folks.

Sujani 24:36
Okay, so I have many questions there. But the quick one is you said crash course on the soft skills. I’m assuming that was on the job. Like you didn’t go get this course. Yeah. And so I’m sure there was like impostor syndrome, fear of whether you could even do all of this. How do you- How did you tackle all of that? You said coming out of school, you went into this job and you’re kind of the only full time nurse medically responsible individual, you needed to do a crash course on all of these different things that you just talked about, like how do you manage that?

Brandon 25:08
Definitely leaning on the experience of the people who had been doing it for years. Yeah, I take no, sort of, I don’t know what the word is just I can take no credit for, you know, just me pulling up my bootstraps and suddenly realize I’m, I’m great at this, like, no, there have been people fighting this fight for decades.

Sujani 25:26
Yeah.

Brandon 25:27
Some of them, you know, we’re working in what was, you know, the tent, and then the trailer in moss Park, and then a physical- eventually a physical site. And then the other injection sites started opening up across Toronto. So some of the staff that for and Victor were people who were working in those tents from the get go, and had probably been, you know, were pure workers who had, you know, injected drugs themselves at some point in their lives, or actively continuing like that, those were some of my peers and colleagues that were working on chip. So they have that lived experience that I could never think have, and that nursing school could never possibly teach me. So just going in with a completely open mind and letting them lead the charge. And up as much as I could like, definitely, from a liability standpoint, because for the most part, the RN on shift was the only regulated health professional there, there was a bit more of like liability involved there, which was important to note. So there’s that part of like the leadership element, but also know like, it’s shared leadership, people have different skills here, I would never dream to kind of take over the pure workers roles, or the- the social workers roles, like they are much better at, you know, connecting people to services, or speaking at the client level in a way that I just can’t. So being open minded to learning about those things, as well as the existing you know, there were nurses there who I did a couple of shadow shifts with and just being a sponge, just ask as many questions as possible and learn from them how best to approach this job.

Sujani 27:01
That’s good advice for our listeners who are thinking, “How in the world am I supposed to jump into this right out of school?” Sounds like there’s a lot to learn, but great to hear that there’s people that you can lean on and learn from. The other question I had, and I am sure this podcast episode is not enough to cover that. But you know, some of the- the bigger issues of needing to advocate for better resources, changes in policy, some of those kind of pieces of work, is that something that you get to be involved in, in your role as a community nurse, I know you talked about kind of, you know, the, the day to day role that you have, but there’s bigger pieces and I feel that you and your colleagues are better suited to kind of really understand and articulate that to the decision makers or whoever needs to do that work. But yeah, do you get opportunities to kind of get involved in that sort of work?

Brandon 27:56
I would say informally, I think the nature of these kinds of more community health initiatives is that they tend to, for better or worse, consider themselves scarcer resources, like whether or not you actually are or effectively using resources as a different question. But you’re acting from a point of scarcity. So things that are beyond the general day to day job description, you want to do them, but you just don’t have the time or resources to do it. Even within that job, like, you know, there’s levels to it, like the biggest bandaid of a safe injection site of all is just okay, we dealt with an overdose. But what do we actually help with? Like, are they are they just gonna overdose tomorrow? Do they actually have a place to go tonight? And so part of those things is the more case management part, which you desperately want to do for every single patient that walks through the door, you don’t have time, depending on where you are like Fred Victor was so busy that you just hope to make it through the shift safely and have people in and out in a safe manner, avoiding conflict, avoiding severe overdoses, all of those health things. But the more you know, socio economic things that needed to happen for people to get into a better place, that isn’t even like political advocacy you’re doing that’s just purely working within the system.

Sujani 29:18
Yeah.

Brandon 29:18
And then beyond that, the more upstream approach of actually engaging politically, you feel like you don’t have time, like I would say, when I was in Toronto, like myself and my colleagues like we would go to protests and that kind of thing to have our voices heard and advocate for policy change. But not too often where we necessarily engage on like any sort of political level with decision makers. Perhaps it was just seen as like to activist it and maybe a threat as well to funding, I think it’s difficult to work in like the publicly funded sector and feel comfortable that you can say whatever you want because ultimately you work for an organization that draws funding from the government of the day. And who’s to say that your voice or actions couldn’t threaten that funding and cancel that service? So, yeah, it’s difficult. I wish there was more time in room for it. But I think it was a difficult kind of balancing act you have to play.

Sujani 30:20
And maybe, you know, it kind of goes into the second part of the conversation that I wanted to have with you. And it’s about the MBA that you’re pursuing. And I’m assuming just after hearing your journey so far, that was the reason you perhaps are pursuing an MBA is to try to, you know, see if you can do more with what you’ve seen on the ground?

Brandon 30:42
Yeah, no, absolutely. It was a realization, I think that, yes, you’re a bit of a cog in a broken machine, you’re just a band aid for helping people and not to say, like, you know, don’t go into the field, if you’re at all interested, I want to advocate for people to go into harm reduction, and just public health and generally, but so at my second job, when I moved to Hamilton, I pretty quickly became the manager of that program, which was really a great opportunity. And I could see even clearer the gaps in health care that existed for these folks, you know, because suddenly, you’re not just dealing with the clients, but you’re trying to make conditions safer for the staff, you’re trying to engage with all the community partners, so that you can, you know, integrate care a bit better. You’re advocating to the Ministry for more funding for this, this, this and this that will help your clients out more. And I felt like, I felt like I was doing a good job in that role. But there were gaps in my knowledge, as someone who had, you know, purely been public health, social determinants of health and nursing focused, it was everything is more about the client, rather than a systems focus, and how do you actually implement create change within the system. I don’t necessarily think nursing school prepares you for that. And so I always knew that something like a master’s was in the works for me that I wanted to get into something elevated, whether that was like nurse practitioner, but then I also realized that like, the frontline work wasn’t as rewarding as they wanted it to be. So I, you know, was considering my options during COVID. Like, I’ve managed this program through the pandemic, and felt like, no, I want to do this job in some capacity, maybe not a specific job, but I want to do much better and have more opportunities. So it was, you know, a master’s of public health or as a Masters of Health Administration. And then some folks that I knew some friends, I have in Hamilton, they approached me and said, oh, like McMasters MBA, like, it has a lot of tie in with healthcare, it’s kind of known as a bit more of a Healthcare MBA, consider it like they had both done it, it will open a lot more doors. I know that I’m a bit more of a public sector mindset, not so much the business side of things. So I think philosophically, that was always a bit difficult for me to stomach, it still kind of is like, I would never have dreamed, three, four years ago, like, oh, yeah, I’ll go to business school. No, that’s something. But I am very glad I did it. Because, you know, I was intentionally trying to diversify and challenge myself in a way that I had never been exposed before, like, things that managers and directors and people in decision making, they need to know how the world works in terms of finance, accounting, strategy, like government relations, all of these huge things that nursing just would never have taught me. And perhaps experience alone wouldn’t have boosted me enough. So I wanted to compliment, you know, like the frontline nursing skills, I know what’s happening on the ground, I’ve done it, plus MBA, I can be in a leadership position and have all my bases covered in terms of how to be like a good manager, and try and marry those two together. And it was the right choice. I think, not just focusing just on healthcare, and taking like a broader look at you know, really, its economic conditions and social conditions that lead people to be in poor health. So you should understand, like the business behind all that.

Sujani 34:14
Yeah, no, I think, you know, someone like you, who has been on the ground, has kind of taken on that manager role, has seen the functions of that role. You are the individuals who are going to make excellent leaders within our public health system to be able to change things at a system level and getting that kind of training that we don’t get in public health, whether it’s like the business aspect of how certain institutions work, or the finance and the accounting, everything that you talk about, I think those are necessary skills and then tying that in with the- the clinical skills that you bring to the table. I think that’s an excellent way to think about it. And I’m very, very happy to hear that, you know, our future leaders are people like you who are going to have those two sets of skills. Yeah, maybe if you can tell us a bit more about the MBA program, you said it has a bit of a health concentration to it.

Brandon 35:08
So I’m a degree- so McMasters business school, and I would say McMaster is known to be more of like a healthcare focus school, but their their med school and their nursing program. And their MBA has the option to kind of specialize in health services management, I ultimately chose not to, like I went into the program thinking like, oh, I’m definitely going to specialize. And I’m really glad I haven’t, because just the how the course requirements worked out, it would have kind of limited what I was able to pursue in my, my courses and not be as diverse as I wanted to be. Yeah, definitely the MBA program, if you’re, you know, leaning into the healthcare world, or, you know, perhaps you’re like a commerce student who wants to get into health care management of sorts, it’s like, it would be great option for those folks, because there’s just so many different like course offerings that marrie- married in, but for me, it was, over time, realize that it’s more about the kind of diversity of the course offerings, probably the best course I’ve had so far, just in wrapping it up now, it’s very well known within our program as the best course you’ve got to do it. And it’s, it’s even like you have to apply to get in, and you’re put on a team of four people, and you are really dedicated to these four people for the whole semester, because you’re going to do all these case competitions with them and be put under a lot of time pressure and kind of open yourself up to a lot of personal criticism about how you present yourself in solving all these business problems and delivering kind of oral presentations. And I think that’s, it’s really great, because first year of an MBA is a consolidated commerce degree, it’s, you know, do you have background enough in the finance, accounting, marketing, strategy, data analytics, like just basics of modern business? And then, you know, after that, I felt like, okay, well, what did they do with that? A- it was like an undergrad, where I just kind of learned it, did some multiple choice exams and stuff, and then forgotten immediately, as opposed to this course over the past semester, where it’s like, no actively apply it, you’re going to serve as a consultant, essentially, for a business that’s experiencing some sort of issue or opportunity, strategize as a group, you have three hours to come up with a 15 to 25 minute presentation on all of like, the best approach and implement it. And so it’s just leaned heavily on those lessons learned in all of your other courses, to deliver like the best possible outcome for the client, which is really great. I still, you know, I’m not particularly business focused. Whenever we got something related to health care, or the public sector, I was really excited because I’m like, hey, finally, something for me. But yeah, just like that diversity was important. And I can kind of whenever I can take the lessons from a course and apply it to like, oh, no, like, I can actually use this in the public sector or to help people, that’s really the value of the MBA.

Sujani 35:39
What’s the name of the course?

Brandon 37:18
That one is called D700 case analysis, Dr. Molina had is a legend. She’s great.

Sujani 38:22
Awesome. As as you’re talking, I remembered another guest that I had on the podcast, and she, she was also a nurse, but she wasn’t doing bedside nursing in like over a decade. And she had an MBA too. And I was like, okay, now now, everything’s like coming back to me. And so, at least, the way I see it, it shows some of our listeners who are pursuing kind of like a nursing degree, or our public health nurses that the trajectory of their career is also quite diverse. You’re, you’re not just like stuck in this one role. And if you’re thinking, you know, what do I do after nursing? From the conversation I’ve had with Julia, who is the other nurse and yourself, it sounds like, options are endless.

Brandon 39:06
That is definitely what I’ve heard everyone who says like, oh, the RN post-MBA is a very powerful mix. And I tend to agree, there’s actually 4-5, 6 nurses in my cohort of like, 180 students, I think we were. It’s not insignificant, like more and more nurses, I think are realizing like the benefits and like potential opportunities, particularly if you are more business minded and want to get into something like pharma or biotech, like the private sector is definitely very eager to have someone who has RN after their name, be some sort of advisor or consultant or kind of patient liaison for whatever their product is. And like, honestly, it’s a lucrative opportunity for perhaps nurses who definitely don’t get paid as much as they should.

Sujani 39:56
No, absolutely. And I something that I keep thinking of is if there’s a silver lining in this pandemic, I really hope that the government can see the amount of work that nurses have to do and, you know, really up their pay or something along those lines.

Brandon 40:10
Yeah.

Sujani 40:11
You mentioned early on about, you know, aligning your career to your core values. And I was hoping you could take some time to talk through that, that concept for some of our listeners who might be early on in their career, whether they’re pursuing nursing or not, I’ve heard it a few times in different ways where students are currently pursuing grad school and still don’t know where to take their career or what path to go on. I mean, like, there may be things that they like, whether it’s like quantitative analysis, or they like working in the community. But I think if there’s any words of advice that you could provide, and really like helping them reflect on what it is that they really believe in, how is it that they can align their career and I think you talked a bit about that, you know, really reflecting on your practicums. And thinking about whether this is the place that you wanted to, to build your career. And I think, using your own example, I think that could really help some of our students and early career professionals.

Brandon 41:17
So big question. Your life? Yeah, it’s hard. Yeah, I would say, Well, I can get really mad about it, that we’re working in some sort of capitalist system where ultimately, to survive, you’re going to have to do something that has value to this marketplace, whether you like it or not, and I hope you- like I hope everyone tries to find something that they do enjoy. You know, it might be a myth, and not possible for some people to fit within that tight confines, you have to exist within, you have to say, you know, like, oh, this is what the job market is, even if you know, sitting all day, and reading poetry is what I actually want to do. That’s not a marketable skill, that there’s no market for that. And that’s really unfortunate, because that’s just I don’t think how humans should live. I think that’s just how capitalism works, unfortunately. I have no silver bullet for that. But definitely, I feel like for me, when I was walking into an environment, and I felt, you know, perhaps worse, consistently, every day coming out of it. I can like dig into that, personally, why I was feeling that. And I know, for example, why I felt the urge to go back to school for an MBA was a bit of burnout and kind of moral anguish I was experiencing at my, my job at the time that, you know, I’m going in, I’m doing my very best, and it’s not enough. And I’m not able to live my values, I was put into situations that forced me, compelled me to make decisions I thought would be harmful. But it was kind of that unpleasant, and like, easy excuse situation of, oh, well, I was following orders. And I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be in that position. I would rather be the one, you know, making the decision and not having to abide by someone else’s poor decision making.

Sujani 43:12
Yeah.

Brandon 43:13
So that was important for me to, yeah, live my values, come in every day to the workplace and feel like, I don’t know the environment is accepting me for who I am and embracing, like all the value that I have to bring, and not putting limits on me, is very vague, general kind of answer to the question. It’s difficult. I don’t even know if I found that personally, I found- I found stuff I’m interested in and like, bring me fulfillment. And of course, it’ll be different for every individual. I don’t know what the next thing will be like after graduating, that might be your next or final question. But I- there’s stuff I’m interested in. And I think it was like a winding path.

Sujani 43:55
Yeah.

Brandon 43:55
And I think it speaks to like our generation, my generation at least. But it’ll be hard to anticipate staying anywhere for more than like two to three years and good job, or at least a role without, you know, getting promoted or moving laterally, laterally or something like that. Because we just want something interesting and fulfilling and dreams and the priorities that can shift over time. And being able to stay dynamic that way I think is important. Perhaps that some piece of advice is you know, I, for example, came in and thought I was going to be a doctor. And I’m really glad that I’ve just had like the willingness and honestly a bit of courage to say like no, this isn’t for me, I thought this was and it’s not or I have a good job that pays me a decent salary as a nurse and I’m a bit tired and the work is hard but I do enjoy the work. I can just do this forever. Like no you don’t have to do that in this world. Luckily, we have the privilege of living in the world and at least a country where like education is like reasonably affordable, reasonably. That’s still-

Sujani 44:59
Yeah.

Brandon 44:59
-and it can be difficult to make those transitions. But you should do it like, stay dynamics, just do something you’re interested in. It’s very generic advice. But that’s what I-

Sujani 45:11
No, I think it’s really powerful advice. Like I what I at least gathered from what you said is like being in tune with your emotions and how you’re really feeling when you show up to work, right? I don’t think enough of us do that, we kind of get into that routine. And, you know, it’s my job when you have to show up, but you need to do my work. But then when you really sit back, reflect and understand the emotions that you’re feeling if they’re not too positive, and you know, you will have some bad days here and there. But if it’s consistently negative emotions, you need to take some time to like dissect that a bit and really understand why it is that you’re feeling that way. Is it the work? Is it the people? Is it the environment? And I think, like you said, just have the courage to really try something else. And with what you did, you know, not pursuing a rotation where which was in the hospital, which is what the norm was amongst your peers and exploring public health, I think having the courage to really listen to what your body and mind and soul is telling you. I think that’s excellent advice.

Brandon 46:14
Yeah. And I think, again, like it’s cliche, you only live once carpe diem. Like, choose your cliche, but truly, like, I know I don’t want to wake up one day and be like, okay, I’m ready for retirement. And what did I do with my life?

Sujani 46:29
Yeah.

Brandon 46:29
Right? You get one chance, and you just got to make the most of it. Like, whether that’s helping people or, you know, doing something creative. If legacy is your thing, and you want to leave a mark. Or do you just want to, perhaps your values are different. It’s like, okay, we hustle at work that I don’t love, but it’s more about my family. And like, hopefully, somewhere you can, like, rationalize it in a way that is in tune with your values.

Sujani 46:54
Yeah.

Brandon 46:54
And it’s not purely just like, just taking the hand that you’re dealt and feeling like, okay, I’m just kind of working until I die. Yeah, right?

Sujani 46:54
Yeah, no, yeah, I think it’s just knowing what your values are. And then being okay, with the actions and the path that you’ve chosen that are aligning with your values. And yeah, I think for some people, they can go to work nine to five, shutdown, spend the rest of the time with their family and, and be very, very happy with it. And that’s also- that’s also great. Yeah. Okay, so you already kind of told me that you really don’t know what’s coming next. But- but anything that you’re kind of toying with in your head that you might explore?

Brandon 47:37
Well, it depends. I always have to preface to every single time. My partner is finishing med school. So residency is always a big question for us. And we have no idea where we’re going to be come April, May. So I’m kind of along for the ride there and trying to be as employable for whoever whenever opportunities exist, wherever it may be. I’m hoping that it’s going to be something in public or community health, a lot of opportunities and things like Ontario health teams, I was fortunate that my MBA internship was at Kensington health, and I had a lot of experience with the Midwest Toronto OHT, which was really cool. Something in public health, like as a unit would be really nice, I still want to explore that option. Or perhaps the ministry, just like you know, where decisions are being made is really important to me. And like some, you know, little, even private sector, like little consulting opportunities do come up. And it’s nice to bring in the best of both worlds. As long as you know, the mandate and mission are so consistent with like, helping people over profit always has to be like the number one thing. So lots of- lots of options. And I’m not worried about job prospects, which is really nice. It’s just trying to stay open and acknowledge that like, I’m young and have lots to learn, and any diverse opportunity that comes up could be like, you know, an interesting path to take.

Sujani 49:02
Amazing. Thank you so much, Brandon, I think this chat’s been wonderful and really going to inspire a lot of not only nursing students, and I think other early professionals as well. So really, thank you for joining me today.

Brandon 49:14
Thank you so much. Yeah, thank you for letting me ramble on for an hour.

Sujani 49:18
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Brandon and you know, really enjoyed hearing about the day in the life of a public health nurse. And I hope that if you have been considering a career as a public health nurse that Brandon’s episode inspired you or give you some ideas about how you can build your career. And I also want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of our health care and essential workers who have showed up every day on the frontlines during this pandemic. You are all the true heroes of this pandemic. So thank you so much for the work that you’ve been doing.

And if you enjoyed hearing about the day in the life of a public health nurse and want us to cover other roles, feel free to submit them through our podcast suggestion form that can be found at pHspot.org/podcast. And before you go, I wanted to let you know about our six week hands on intensive training program that empowers early professionals with the mindset skills and tools required to land a public health job and advance in your career. So if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about building your dream public health career, we can help you through this program. And you can now join the waitlist to be notified when the next cohort opens up. And you can do that at pHspot.org/program. And if you have any questions about this program, feel free to email us and so that’s a wrap for today’s episode. If you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pHspot.org/podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you.

And until next time, thank you so much for tuning in to PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

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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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