Putting the pieces together towards a public health degree.

In September 2020, I started my Master of Public Health degree at the University of Western Ontario, however, by slightly different circumstances. I was going to be undergoing my entire one-year condensed program entirely online. At this time, The COVID-19 Pandemic was raging in full force and presented very uncertain and dangerous circumstances to societies in new and uncomfortable ways. I was determined that undergoing a Public Health Degree during the midst of a global pandemic would prepare me more than ever for the challenges that were to come in my future career as a public health professional.

Why a public health degree?  

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus with a major in population health and a double minor in social anthropology and media studies. Very early into my educational journey, I sought to bring together the intersections of communications and health. As a result, I became very interested in understanding how diverse, intersectional factors impact the health of communities. At the same time, I was also very interested in learning more about the relationship media has in communicating health information to the public.

Once I completed my undergraduate degree, I knew that I wanted to continue my education, but I was unsure exactly what I wanted to do. To most people’s surprise, the health field is very vast. Most assume that health jobs are mainly limited to delivering health care. That many available careers are strictly related to nursing or physician care. In reality, many different jobs exist within the health context; however, much creativity is needed to apply a diverse skill set like my own. It is not always obvious how one can leverage media and health knowledge in this space but it is possible. The health field requires many skills that can be used in health research, health technicians, administrative and infrastructure, and policy development. These areas within health need expert specialties to be done well.

I felt what was best for me was to test the waters. For four years, I was fortunate to work in health systems research at a community-based hospital, where I was able to expose myself to diverse areas in health. I felt most confident and inspired working in partnerships with community organizations and foreseeing opportunities to collaborate forces to deliver unified and well-rounded health care for patients and community members. I enjoyed building connections and learning the context in which those who frequented the services of the community organizations came from. I enjoyed getting to learn about the various narratives of the community and leverage their voices. But I also enjoyed collecting and conducting community data. Community research is slightly different from just working in the lab; you get the opportunity to speak to individuals and understand their perspectives. I felt very connected and fulfilled in doing this work, and it made me more driven to want to engage in actionable solutions to root issues that impacted their communities.

After some research, I came across a few public health programs; these programs focused on impacting population health. They prioritized equipping students with the skills to synthesize evidence to control infectious diseases by developing and implementing programs that focus on promoting preventative care for communities. The following four reasons are why I decided that a Public Health degree would be the most appropriate training for the goals I wanted to achieve.

  1. Public health is an interdisciplinary field. It requires the combination of a variety of skills.

Public health has a broad range of sub-fields of specialization, including health promotion, epidemiology, research, evaluation and policy. These specialized fields require different expertise but also require the knowledge of other skills to be conducted well. For example, a public health promoter must know essential health promotion methods. Still, they may also require the knowledge of how to develop research methods if they plan to incorporate a research aspect to their program to collect data.

  1. Public health is a field that is not limited to the same work environment and brings together data evaluation, collection, and application skills.

Some individuals require very structured work schedules and work environments. Public health, depending on your job, can also be very different each day. As mentioned earlier, you may have to use other skills in your work or work with many different people from community organizations, patients, advocates and government representatives for collaborative opportunities.

  1. Public health requires a solutions mindset.

Problem-solving is a huge component of public health work. The health system is a very complex network of services, policies, and systems, leading to many challenges and discrepancies. As we have seen through the pandemic, new and old challenges in the health system have come to the forefront impacting many individuals and societies. These challenges have presented major concerns in the delivery of much-needed crisis management. As a result, public health has been resilient to deliver transformed public health messaging, voicing their concerns as advocates and even innovatively producing accurate and evidence-based data under pressurized circumstances.

  1. Public health aims to improve health care infrastructure.

Before the pandemic, a handful of people have heard what a public health professional is. Still, many people may not be able to pinpoint exactly what a public health professional does. Of course, the added responsibilities of public health are to sustain accessible and equitable health care infrastructure. This is not a simple overnight task but requires a long investment in implementation and research.

Overall, deciding on a Public Health degree required me to think comprehensively about what goals I wanted to achieve with my graduate training and the work I saw myself doing with the skills I learned. For me, a public health degree would provide me with interdisciplinary training to contribute in meaningful ways to support and improve the health of populations I hope to work with. With my recent completion of the program, I look forward to diving into the workforce to apply my new skills and knowledge.   

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