PHS037 Quick Career Tips Offer up your skills - Strategies to gain public health work experience (part 2), with Sujani Siva

Quick career tips: Offer up your skills – Strategies to gain public health work experience (Part 2)

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Show Notes

This three part career tips series is inspired by a blog post written and published in 2019 by Sujani titled: 3 strategies to build up your public health work experience, tested and proven by me.

Today’s career tip spotlight is the second of these three strategies: offer up your skills!

Prior to starting PH SPOT, a common question that Sujani would receive from students and new grads she was mentoring was related to gaining work experience early in their careers. This question has remained one of the most popular questions even amongst the PH SPOT community.

In this episode, Sujani talks through the second strategy she used in order to gain public health experience. These experiences became the foundation of her public health career.

You’ll learn:

  • Jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities may not always be posted.
  • Offer up your time and skill, in return for public health experience.
  • Be proactive: reach out to an organization that is aligned with your interest, develop a proposal for work you can contribute to and present it to them.
  • Two stories from Sujani on how she built her public health work experience.
  • Steps Sujani took to reach out to an organization to present a proposal for work she was interested in doing.

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Resources

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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.

Hi, 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. Welcome to another episode of Quick Career tips. Today’s episode is a continuation from the last quick career tips. And it’s a three part Career Tip series inspired by a blog post I wrote in 2019 titled, “Three strategies to build up your public health work experience tested and proven by me”. I wrote this blog post because of the same questions that I was receiving from the PH SPOT community members around building experience early on in their career. So what I did was I reflected back on strategies that I used in order to gain my public health experience and then share them back with the community in this blog post. In today’s episode, I am going to be sharing the second of three strategies that I followed when building my public health experience. And so the second tip is offer up your skills. And here goes, so jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities may not always be posted online. So what I’m doing is I’m encouraging you to get creative and see what sort of skills you have. That can be of help to an organization or maybe a researcher at a university, especially if money is not a problem. And you’re able to spend some time to gain that experience. Because maybe your resume doesn’t have any public health work experience, then these are some proven strategies that I have used in the past. Essentially, it’s about offering up your time and your skill in return for public health work experience. So not for profit organizations, for example, do amazing work, and they can actually use some additional hands on deck, especially with skills that aren’t abundantly available to them. Like public health professionals, as someone with a public health background, you can be of so much value to them. And the trick is, however not to offer yourself as someone who is looking for experience to these organizations, you don’t want to put it on them to find you work. So encourage you to be proactive and develop a proposal. And so here are some steps for you to do that. Reach out to an offer profit organization that is aligned with your interest, something you know you will enjoy once you do, get to know more about their work. And you can do this by exploring their website, their social media accounts, reading some of their reports, or even looking through LinkedIn to see what sort of roles people have at these organizations. The next step is to check and see if they post volunteer positions, for example. If they do, that’s great, get yourself signed up. And once you’re in a volunteer role, find opportunities to gain skills that you’re looking to build. If it’s in health promotion, for example, ask to be involved in community outreach programs, if it’s research, ask to take on a research project, most non for profit organizations may not even have anyone dedicated to doing research for them. So you will essentially become a big asset. If at first the organization wants you to support projects that need the most help with even if it’s not a skill you want to build on, don’t be discouraged, find ways to be efficient at that task, and then offer up additional support in the areas you want to gain skills in, this way, you will shine.

So when I think back to my time, building up my public health work experience. I started volunteering at Diabetes Canada when I was in my last year of undergraduate studies, so that I could gain some public health work experience. I applied through a traditional volunteer program that they had posted, and I provide a support with administrative tasks. Eventually, though, I positioned myself as someone who had additional skills to offer and should they need it, I would gladly support them. I eventually sought out opportunities to conduct an environmental scan, support community outreach activities at annual expos provided public health promotion ideas via social media, where I even got them up and running with Facebook at the time, which was more than 10 years ago, and provided training in tools that staff were not familiar with. And then sometime later, they actually received funding to hire someone for a four month period over the summer and guess who was top of mind for them. Unexpectedly, I landed a paid job over the summer. Alternatively, if you find an organization that isn’t advertising for volunteer opportunities, it will require a bit more work on your end. This was also part of my job search strategy after my master’s program. When I was looking for ways to gain public health work experience, I came across a health center in Downtown, Toronto. Their health center provided primary care and chronic disease management services as well as health promotion, education, outreach and social support. In addition to mental health services. Their particular commitment was to help people who may have been underserved by the conventional health care system. I was fascinated by their programs and services and really wanted to get involved. However, the only volunteer opportunities I found on their website were for clinical roles such as nurses. So what I did was, I proposed a role for myself. And here’s a quick summary of steps that I took. First, I found contact details online for the program manager and sent her an email letting her know a bit about me, the email was brief, and it led me to filling out a volunteer form. The only form they had though, was for nurse volunteers. So that’s what I filled in with many spots left as not applicable. And finally, a few emails back and forth led to an invitation to meet and speak with a program manager. Although I went in thinking that I could maybe volunteer on the frontline in some ways supporting nurses, the conversation allowed me to understand where else I could provide support at the center. Similarly, the program manager was also able to identify the gaps in the center that she could fill using my skills. After discussing some projects, we decided that there were two great programs that could use additional research and evaluation support. And it would be a great project for me to take on, I was thrilled because I would get an opportunity to apply what I had learned in a space that I was passionate about. As I waited for some formal agreements to take place at the center, I had, however, landed a full time job in a different city. My job search was something I was transparent with when I met the program manager, so it was no surprise to them. So despite the timing, not working out, well, and me not having had the opportunity to actually work on the projects that I had proposed with this health center. It just goes to show that if you’re willing to put work into identifying your own opportunities, you can in fact, land and opportunity that could help you build the experience you are interested in, even if that opportunity is not posted online. The tip here is to offer up your skills or time in return for public health work experience. There are many small and big not for profit organizations who could really use the help of a public health professional. Finding something that will keep you excited will be key though. For organizations that advertise volunteer roles, it’s a bit easier for you to reach out to them. And for those who don’t advertise, put a bit of thought into how you could get involved and what your proposal could be. So I hope that gives you a bit of encouragement and inspiration to truly take a different approach to thinking about how you could build public health work experience early on in your career. Thanks for joining me on this episode spotlighting a Career Tip. I’ll be back with the next strategy in the next Career Tips podcast episode.

And before you leave, I wanted to let you know that PH SPOT has some great products for students early in established public health professionals on our website at pHspot.ca/resources. So be sure to check those out. And if you want to see notes from today’s episode, head on over to pHspot.ca/podcast. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into 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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