My first 10 years in public health, with Sujani

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This episode walks through Sujani’s first 10 years of her public health career, as well as the highs and lows. This episode is inspired by a LinkedIn post that Sujani wrote that crossed 14,000+ views.

Thank you to McKool Coaching for sponsoring this episode. Marissa McKool helps women in public health stop overworking and get more REST.


What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Sujani walks through her public health career (education, jobs, side projects, etc.) starting from 2011 to 2021!
  • She talks about her MPH degree, public health jobs she had, interviews she failed, launch of her not-for-profit organization (the Tamil Health Association) and the birth of this company (PH SPOT).
  • The ups and downs of these 10 years. What she did and didn’t do through these 10 years (for example, no formal education or certification, 55% increase in salary, the HUGE community she’s built around her, and more!)
  • About The Public Health Career Club, PH SPOT’s membership community.

Today’s Guest:

Sujani Sivanantharajah is the founder and CEO of PH SPOT. 

Sujani Sivanantharajah is a public health professional trained in Epidemiology. Her gift and passion lie in building relationships and using these relationships to create and cultivate spaces for people to find meaningful partnerships that can serve their communities. In 2017, this passion led her to build, a platform and community for public health professionals around the world to build their dream careers.

Sujani holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from the University of Saskatchewan and an Honours Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Toronto.

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Sujani 0:02
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, it’s Sujani here and welcome to another episode of PH SPOTlight. This is a solo episode, I haven’t done one of these in a very long time. And I really enjoy them, because it’s kind of feels like I’m speaking to you directly, right? So for today’s episode, it’s actually coming from a LinkedIn post that I wrote several months ago. And apparently, it crossed 15,000 people’s, you know, views, hundreds of people liked it, lots of comments on it. And it was titled “My First 10 Years”. And so what I had done in this post, and I’ll make sure to link it in the show notes, if you want to kind of see the written version of it. I just wrote out, you know, that year, and then kind of what I had done, related to my public health career, so it, it kind of paints a picture for anybody thinking about their public health career and what it could look like. And obviously, you know, this pathway is one person’s view. But you know, there there are many others like this. And what I wanted to show that it’s, it’s never this perfect line that you’re building and can feel like that when you look at people on LinkedIn, and you and you go back and look at their experiences. And you see like, wow, okay, they did this. And then they did that, and seems like they had everything figured out. And I’m here to tell you that that is not the case. So if you’re starting out in your public health career, or if you’re a kind of a few years in, I can tell you that it definitely feels scary. And even me right now, you know, 12 years since graduating from my MPH, it sometimes does feel scary. But what I realized is that it’s really just one foot in front of the other, and lots of reflections, lots of just kind of sitting by yourself and thinking about, you know, where you want to go, what brings you joy, leaning on people creating community around you, right? So yeah, what I want to do is actually go through and tell you what the first 10 years of my public health career look like, and, and I’m hoping it kind of acts as an inspiration for you.

So I started my MPH in 2011. And so that is what I will kind of mark as the beginning or the start of my public health career. So 2011, I start my MPH degree. And while I’m pursuing my two year MPH degree, I get involved in a lot of student club activities. I also join a I think it was a biostats and epidemiology conference planning committee that kind of, you know, gives me a little bit more than what I would learn in the classroom setting. In 2012, I enter the second year of my MPH program. It is also when I pursue my practicum in program evaluation. During my second year of my MPH degree, I also decided to take on a number of research jobs on the side so I could build up my experience. And I did, I think it was a total of maybe three research jobs in the, kind of we had a different department adjacent to the Public Health Department, and it was in the Community Medicine Department. And these are research jobs that I landed by just reaching out to professors and then seeing if there was a good fit there. In 2013, I started my job application. So I applied to over 100 applications. I had three interviews and one kind of solid offer by kind of when was it spring of 2013 Summer of 2013 kind of around that time. It took me about five months to land a job. I essentially started applying to jobs in January of 2013. And I was set to graduate in April. So that all took place my MPH graduation also took place in 2013. And then during kind of that period when I had graduated from my MPH degree, I was still applying to jobs and I kind of didn’t really have much of a structure my day. I was inspired from one of my courses to launch a not for profit organization, it was called the Tamil Health Association. It was a community outreach and research firm. And so that all took place in that no summer of 2013. And then by fall of 2013, I started my first kind of official public health job as an outbreak epidemiologist at the federal government. So that was all in 2013. In 2014, I’m still at that job. And I start to do one on one mentoring with students and new grads, a lot of people are reaching out on LinkedIn, because they are seeing my journey, right I, I went in got an undergraduate in bachelors of science. And then I went on to do this MPH program. And so I guess people are kind of looking for individuals to talk to, and I ended up coming up in their search. And so I never turned down a single person I’ve met with all of them in 2014. In 2015, I continued that one on one mentoring, I also started applying to new positions in the same agency, and I pretty much failed every single interview that took place. So I continued to be in that same role that I was in in 2013. In 2016, again, I’m continuing the one on one mentoring. And that’s an important piece, because I’ll tell you what happens in kind of 2016 or 2017. So yeah, I continue to do one on one mentoring, I apply to other epidemiologists roles in different areas, I either did not make it past the first screening stage, or I failed more interviews. So here we are, you know, many failed interviews later. And then in 2017, after an idea we had in 2016, with a friend of mine, launched PH SPOT as a side hustle. And it was really to scale that one on one mentoring work I was doing and I’ve written lots of blog posts and lots of episodes telling you about the birth of PH SPOT. And yeah, it came from just curiosity, wanting to build something wanting to scale mentoring, wanting to explore entrepreneurship, a lot of things kind of collided and PH SPOT was born, I invested a lot of my own money into it, to get that up and running. And around that same time, I also applied to get again to another public health role. And it was in public health surveillance, and I ended up passing the exam and the interview. And they and I also got married that year in 2017. And I was offered a position to move to a new province to do some public health surveillance work. And so in 2018, we pack up my husband and I, and we move to Manitoba, so it is a province next to where we were living in Ontario. And I started a new role in a new topic area. And you know, PH SPOT continues to grow. And I ended up launching our first paid product, which was the infographics one on one course, and hundreds of individuals joined that, and that was in 2018. In 2019, I, you know, kind of was wrapping up the work that I came to Manitoba for and I was feeling kind of ready for- for change and something new and I saw a kind of memo go out with my organization’s email. And I saw that a new team was being formed at the agency that I was at, and just reading the description of what they were set out to do. super inspired and excited to maybe explore a path outside of epidemiology, you know, up until 2019. So from 2013 to 2019, I had been doing kind of like pure epidemiology work, applied epi work, and kind of for the first time, I was excited to maybe step out of that a little bit and explore this new team that was being formed. And I knew that the work that I would, I couldn’t be potentially doing would have, you know, very little applied epi work. So curious, I set up an informational interview with the kind of the director general of that organized or that team. And then I saw that they had put out a formal call out for recruiting members into that team and I apply to join the team. I pass the interview and then in 2019, kind of at the end end up 2019 I joined that team and started a new role in kind of like partnerships and policy. And in 2019, you know, when we think about PH SPOT I hired for the first time, somebody to join the PH SPOT team. And that’s Liz Huang, whose name you probably often see on our newsletter, if you’re subscribed to our newsletter, and if you’re not, you can do so at pH In 2020, I launched the podcast, which is the one that you’re listening to at PH SPOT. So that’s kind of on the PH SPOT side. And in my kind of professional career side of things, I have the need to pivot, this new role that I’m in, I applied to a completely different role. And within several months, ended up doing something completely different, just like everybody else around the world because of the pandemic. So our new team had to quickly pivot to, you know, responding to the pandemic, I also ended up moving back home in the middle of the pandemic, back to Ontario to be closer to family. And then, you know, towards the end of 2020, I, I get pregnant and expecting my first baby. So lots of changes happening in 2020 for me. In 2021, I continued to kind of work on the pandemic response, I went on maternity leave, and did lots of reflecting, lots of growing as an individual, as a mother, lots of really thinking about the growth of PH SPOT, I grew the PH SPOT team with a few more wonderful people, I started thinking about how to build better community within PH SPOT. So that takes us to 2021. So what you just heard me talk about is the first 10 years of my public health career, and we are in 2023 now. So over those 10 years, there were lots and lots and lots of peaks and valleys. And, you know, as you’re listening, it might seem like this one straight path. But it wasn’t, I struggled a lot during those years, you know, especially when I’m- when I’m applying to new roles, because I feel like I’m ready for change. And I’m not getting any of these new positions. There were moments, you know, various points in this 10 year period where I really didn’t know what direction I wanted to go. I didn’t know what areas of work interested me. So there were there was a lot of you know, reflecting talking to people really discovering myself. And I wanted to add that because again, it seems like it’s such a linear pathway. But it’s not, it’s got lots of like, twists and turns, which is really hard to kind of show on LinkedIn. So when you are looking at somebody’s career trajectory, remember that there were likely lots of twists and turns. And so, you know, some of my highlights of these twists and turns and peaks and valleys was that I applied to more than probably a dozen jobs that I didn’t get. And then when I was very intentional and really aligned my interest with the job, I progressed so much further in the application process, right? In terms of salary from, you know, when I first started to 2021, my salary had increased by 55%. And I had built a support group of incredible mentors, sponsors and peers, and that is something I’ve done, intentionally and I talk about this all the time that you need to invest in your support group, your relationships, your community, your network, you know, whatever word you want to call it, much earlier than when you will actually need it, right? Because you we are going to need the help of people in our life, whether it’s for your career or your personal life. People are the ones that are going to help you it’s- yes, degrees and experience are going to help you but a lot of the boosts that you can get are going to be from individuals that you kind of connect with and grow with. So if you’re not already doing that, please, please, please do that. It’s something I’ve done over the 10 years, and I still continue to do and it’s kind of, you know, being the reason I’ve been able to take this path. Also, you know, in the 10 years and even now, you know, 12 years later, I did not pursue any formal certifications or degrees. I’ve thought about them I’ve been interested in them but it just never felt like it was going to be necessary for me. So if you’re curious, I never really got any certifications or degrees, I do want to at some point in the future, but again, it really needs to align with my career path. And it needs to have an objective and a purpose for me. I grew my community exponentially. So going back to relationships and network, I don’t even know like, what that what that percentage is like the number of people I have met over these 10-12 years is just incredible. And I’ve thought about putting up a map in my office and putting down people’s names kind of all over the world and seeing that visually, and these are not people that I kind of like interacted once over the years, right? And these are people that I’ve actually built a solid relationship with. And I want to do that because I- I’d like to meet them in person, because a lot of these individuals I’ve met virtually. So that’s another like, huge, huge, huge thing that I think I need to celebrate, over these 10 years is how much I’ve grown my community. I’ve moved five times in these 10 years now, five different cities and three different provinces. I tried different roles. As an outbreak epidemiologist, a public health surveillance officer, a policy analyst, a public health advisor. At first, it was scary to kind of leave epidemiology and try out some of these other roles. But you know, I kind of intentionally told, told myself that I was doing this because of x, right? There were some other skills that I was lacking. And I knew that I couldn’t get out if I continued searching for like applied epidemiology roles. So for me, I intentionally chose different roles so that I can build some diverse skills. Another great thing that happened over the two years is I launched two initiatives and not for profit organization and a company PH SPOT. So I’ve been able to kind of tap into my interest in entrepreneurship and really explore that side. And then I think, you know, going back to community, again, I’ve just built an incredible community, not just for me, but my peers, right, people in public health, and that’s the- that’s PH SPOT, like the larger community, which you are a part of. And then there’s also the public health career club, which is this membership community where we work closely with each other to, to, like, bring our dream public health career to life. So you know, again, if you’re kind of starting off in your career, or just kind of stepping into it, I want to tell you, and I want to, you know, let you know that it was scary for me as well. And when I kind of looked back and and see kind of all the ups and downs of these past 12 years, I go holy, like that was a lot. But it’s been so wonderful. And I want to remind you that it’s one foot in front of the other. Do lots of reflections. Talk to people, again, people are going to help you out, don’t do this alone. And if you have any questions about my 10 years, I’ll link the LinkedIn post with the show notes. And yeah, just asked me underneath that post, and I will be sure to answer any questions that you might have. So I hope that, you know, by hearing about my first 10 years of public health and what that looked like it kind of gave you some inspiration to- to think about yours, and how you’re going to build yours.

Hey, before you go, I want to remind you that enrollments are still open for the Not Your Average Productivity Course by Marisa McKool, the course itself is going to be running from August 7 to September 8, so you still have a few more days to enroll. It’s the only productivity course specifically designed for women in public health. In the course, you’re going to learn how to get more done, reduce your to do list and have more time both at work and at home without burning out. So if you’ve been struggling to find work life balance or find the time to work on your personal goals, this course is going to help you do that. So this course is offered by my colleague and former public health leader turned resque coach Marissa McKool. This course includes on demand video lessons, worksheets, but also private one on one coaching with Marissa. The cost to enroll in the course is $500 which is about only 10% of the cost of her regular private one on one coaching programs. And so the registration for this course closes August 3rd. There are limited spots available. So if you want to kind of be part of this cohort and be part of this program, head over to to grab a spot, we’ll make sure to include the link in the show notes page. And again, if you have any questions about this program or the scores or immersa you can either reach out to us at hello@pH Or you can reach out to Marissa directly.


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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