Pursuing higher education in public health

You’ve decided to enter the field of public health. What’s next?
Choosing a stream within Public Health – a step by step breakdown

One of the first things that attracted me to the field of public health was the flexibility and diversity of options within a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. My MPH class brought with them variety of interests such as maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS advocacy, epidemiology research, food insecurity, health equity, and marginalized populations, all within a small class of 25. Some were interested in becoming policy advisors and program evaluators while others wanted to get into research and use their analytical and critical thinking skills. The best part was that no one could stop you!

In my opinion, the best part about a public health degree is that you can cater the degree to your interest in any way you want; this also brings out a qualified pool of MPH graduates ready to tackle all the public health demands in Canada and globally!

There are several different public health streams offered at Canadian universities; in general, there are 4 main ones. These programs are offered as MPH or M.Sc. degrees, depending on the university and degree requirements. Let’s take a look these streams and my take on them:

Health Policy and Management

What is it?
MPH programs in health policy and management place an emphasis on how health policies are identified, developed and implemented. Students would be knowledgeable in policy development cycles as well as financial and economical aspects of healthcare. It often requires good analytical skills, and the ability to manage and evaluate health systems, programs and policies in the health sector.

Where can I work?
Graduates from this program can work in both the public and private sectors, such as federal and provincial agencies, healthcare organizations and hospitals, private consulting and research.

Organizations to consider
Public Health Ontario, Public Health Agency of Canada, MOHLTC, Health Canada, UHN affiliated hospitals, regional boards of public health (Toronto, Hamilton, Peel, Halton), and LHINs.

Environmental and Occupational Health

What is it?
Environmental and Occupational Health is a small stream of public health, nonetheless, an important one. Students in this field learn to assess workplace hazards in natural and man-made environments. Students would become experienced in identifying and evaluating public health risks associated with biological, chemical and physical hazards, and pursuing efforts to reduce the exposures of these risks and promote healthy living.

Where can I work?
Graduates from this program can be found in any the Occupational Health and Safety department of workplaces.

Organizations to consider:
Food safety sector (CFIA), nuclear power monitoring (CNSC), environmental protection departments of federal and provincial agencies.

Health Promotion and Socio-Behavioural Sciences

What is it?
Health promotion looks at community based health approaches to healthcare. Heavy emphasis is placed on studying the social determinants of health and how these factors are reflected in society. Students investigate strategies on how individuals, groups and communities can work together to promote health, prevent disease and make evidence-based decisions.

Where can I work?
Graduates of this stream are often based in the community and at non-profit organizations, working in locations such as Community Care Access Centres (CCACs), family health clinics and schools. Some examples of health promotion related work include outreach smoke-free policies, community based HIV/AIDS programs, affordable housing, health equity and maternal and child health.

Organizations to consider:
Heart & Stroke Foundation, Ontario Medical Association, Toronto District School Board, YMCA, Regional boards of Public Health, CCACs, LHINs.


What is it?
Epidemiology MPH programs focus on quantitative methodology and critical appraisals of evidence to help public health professionals to make evidence based decisions. Students study the distribution and determinants of diseases and other health related events to control disease. Students also become familiar with health research methodologies that are used to observe and control disease. This stream is heavier in statistics relative to other streams of public health and often involves the use of statistical programs such as SPSS, SAS, STATA and R.

Where can I work?
Graduates can work in research or public health practices. They use surveillance, and different types of descriptive and analytical studies to study and observe diseases and develop prevention strategies.

Organizations to consider:
Research department at CAMH, epidemiology divisions of federal and provincial agencies (PHO, PHAC), and research sectors of hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

Remember, in all of these streams, public health professionals work together on a daily basis to improve public health practice and promote well being in Canada and globally. Choose a stream that speaks to you and scratches your itch and you will definitely find public health a rewarding career!

Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or would just like some clarifications on thinking through the right MPH program for you. I would be happy to share what I’ve learned so far in my public health career.


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