Although deciding to return to school in my mid thirties was not easy, deciding to enroll in the Bachelor
of Environmental Public Health (BEPH) at Conestoga College was. I knew I wanted a career where I could
make a difference. I wanted to help people, to improve lives, and I wanted this impact to last. After
more than a decade working as a chef, my body was run down and I had realised that even though my
service made people happy, helped them forget their stresses and problems, it was only ever for a
fleeting moment; the impact I made never lasted. I knew I needed a change, and that meant going back
to school. I had the strong belief that helping people maintain their health and wellness was among the
most valuable services I could provide, so I started looking into health care careers, which is when I
discovered public health.
A career as a Public Health Inspector would let me combine my interest in science, my passion for food,
and my desire to help people. I would get to protect the health of individuals while preventing disease. I
would get to investigate outbreaks like Dustin Hoffman in, well, Outbreak. How cool is that? I would
even get a badge! Having decided to return to school to become a Public Health Inspector, I only needed
to select which school.
In Ontario, there are only two schools that offer this specific program. I chose the BEPH program at
Conestoga College because their career focused degrees provide the knowledge and practical skills best
suited for specific career paths. Over my four years in the program, I truly benefited from this
philosophy. I would not graduate with a degree that prepared me for a career in public health just
because I happened to pick the right courses; I would graduate with a degree that prepared me to
specifically be a Public Health Inspector.
To accomplish this, I knew the delivery of the program would also be different from other degrees. The
majority of courses I took were mandatory, unlike other programs which provide a range of different
options. What my degree lacked in choice, though, it made up for in cohesion. Having blocks of
mandatory courses allowed knowledge to be acquired, built up, and practiced, across multiple courses
within the same semester. Our Professors knew what students had already learned, and what they were
currently learning, so each course and semester ran like clockwork.
This approach created plenty of time for experiential and practical lessons that taught us how to use
Hedgehog (specific inspection software that is used by professionals in the field), conduct inspections,
and interact with the public. Before the pandemic (and once it is safe again) students would inspect the
restaurants on campus. During remote delivery, students would direct an “inspector”, wearing video
glasses, through a live, simulated inspection. The value of experiential learning really stood out during
the professional role-playing exercises. In one of these exercises, students got to experience how it feels
to be an operator receiving ticket after ticket versus how it feels to receive guidance and education from
an inspector. Although these exercises would feel a little awkward at first, their value quickly became
apparent and appreciated. I know people say you can’t teach interpersonal skills, but Conestoga
manages to pull it off.
The other reason I chose Conestoga College was the small class size (about 30 students). Having a
smaller class size and the same Professors for many of our classes allows us to come together as a community. Students who want extra help can always get it; The professors have the time to focus on us
as individuals, and genuinely want to see us succeed.
Students that excel and demonstrate great aptitude are recognized and given opportunities to enrich
their education. Because of my aptitude for leadership and organization, I was asked to Chair the
program’s student government, and because of strong academic performance, I was given an
opportunity to work as a peer tutor. Other students were presented with opportunities such as working
with professionals in public health on special projects or committees.
Beyond learning and enrichment opportunities, the small class size allowed the students and professors
to come to know everyone within a semester or two. We learned each other’s strengths and come
together as a community, as a team. To me, it is this team spirit and will to help each other learn,
develop, and improve that brings us together and embodies the essence of public health.
As I come to graduation, I am pleased to look back and see how my choices have paid off. I have gained
practical experience through such a functional and cohesive program in which all my individual courses
were pieces of a larger puzzle. It never felt like I was taking 5 or 6 separate courses a semester. Instead,
it felt like I was taking just one: the Public Health Inspector course. As I reflect on my experience, I can
see how what I have learned at Conestoga will help me to help others in a career as a Public Health
Inspector. Turns out, choosing the Bachelor of Environmental Public Health at Conestoga College was
not just a smart choice, it is a choice I would gladly make again.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.