Stumbling on public health

Public Health Degrees – Hear from the Students Series
University of British Columbia

While I was completing my Bachelor of Science at McGill University, I read about public health in an article we were assigned in class and I started looking for more information. I was not very familiar with public health at the time or the career opportunities offered within the field. The more I became acquainted with the field of public health, the more interested I became in the different dimensions it comprises.

I chose to pursue my MPH at the University of British Columbia for several reasons. The first was that I wanted a masters degree that involved coursework and a practicum, rather than one that was thesis-based. Secondly, I didn’t have a clear idea of what specialization within public health I wanted to immerse myself in. As such, I was attracted to the idea of being exposed to a variety of courses rather than applying to one specific stream. Finally, having lived in Toronto and Montreal, I was hoping to move somewhere a little further to pursue a new experience, while still staying within Canada.

I am extremely happy to have pursued a Master of Public Health. It encompasses a variety of fields and skills. This may represent a challenge since it can be overwhelming to have multiple choices pertaining to potential specializations. I was lucky to be part of a wonderful cohort of about 24 students. During our first year, we took most of our courses together and the majority of students completed their practicums during the summer. For my practicum, I was employed for four months by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) as a Student Public Health Officer in northern rural Alberta. I worked with Alberta Health Services and was responsible for designing and launching a project to improve access to French health services for seniors in rural and remote Alberta. This project gave me the opportunity to travel around the region and interact with the communities. I also shadowed over 16 departments at my primary practicum site with Alberta Health Services in Grande Prairie.

Having recently completed my MPH degree, I feel that it has been a remarkably enriching journey. One of the main downfalls of the program however, is that there are few funding opportunities and awards for MPH students as most are dedicated to thesis-based degrees. In terms of the curriculum, the school is continually making changes to meet students’ needs. A Student Association for the School of Population and Public Health was created a year ago and has taken off well this year. It is a great opportunity to get involved with students from other related programs and organize events together.

I would advise prospective students to explore the various areas of public health, which can be vastly different and require distinct skill sets (e.g. epidemiology, evaluation, health policy, global health). Subsequently, they can choose an informal specialization by taking related courses to become more fluent in the area of their choice. I would also recommend becoming familiar with more than one statistical software since organizations tend to use different ones.

To conclude, living in Vancouver has been an absolutely delightful experience. It was especially wonderful to get away from snowstorms and to live by the beach!

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