Public Health Degrees – Hear from the Students Series
University of Guelph

While driving down Highway 6 to Guelph, Ontario for the first time, I felt perplexed. I had just received admissions from a few Master of Public Health (MPH) programs across Ontario and now had to make the very important decision – deciding which program was the perfect fit for me. As with many decisions, it was a combination of factors that ultimately led me to choose the University of Guelph (UofG)’s MPH program. If I were to go back in time and do it all over again, I would still choose UofG, and this is why.

The program did not require that I specialize in one area of public health. This was important for me because after completing a very specialized undergraduate program (Biology with a Physiology specialization), I wanted options during my masters program. I wanted the chance to explore the various fields in public health and assess what I enjoyed and disliked. As such, I took a range of courses including Health Policy, Health Promotion, Infectious Diseases, Epidemiology, Environmental Health, Disaster Planning and Management, Community Engagement, and the list goes on. In addition, I was not pursuing an MPH degree in order to have a specific profession at the end, such as a health inspector or an epidemiologist. I was pursuing an MPH to gain a broad skillset and to explore the various options available in the field of public health. UofG’s general program fit my interest for these reasons.

The program is course-based rather than thesis-based. This means that I did not have a major dissertation to focus upon. Instead, I took four courses per semester and had a semester-long practicum during the third term. The reason I pursed a course-based was mainly because I wanted a professional-based degree in which I would gain multiple practical experiences. Since I did not take co-op during high-school and undergrad, I always felt that I missed out on relevant work experiences that complemented my education; and so I decided I wouldn’t miss out on that opportunity during my masters as well. That being said, there are a number of research opportunities still open to students who are interested. For instance, my research experiences came from conducting a research-based practicum, working part-time as a Student Assistant for a professor in the program and completing various class assignments.

Other aspects of the program that I enjoyed were the small class sizes (my cohort had 22 people), flexibility of the program, and the importance given to community-engaged learning. A lot of our assignments were done in groups, which reflects the environment in the “real-world”. The courses were tailored to real-life skills and the content was relevant to not only public health issues that are present today but also to those that will become issues in the next few years. We also collaborated with community organizations on a number of projects. One of my favourite projects to work on was the creation of a social media campaign in collaboration with the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit.

The reason I was perplexed initially on where I wanted to do my MPH was because Guelph was never on my radar. The main reason I applied was because of its location (Guelph is only an hour away from my hometown). With minimal interest in studying animal health, I was also weary of the fact that UofG’s MPH program is affiliated with a veterinary school (cool fact: UofG is the only school in Canada to be housed in a veterinary college; other MPH programs are affiliated with medical schools or research departments). However, I was wrong! I soon came to learn that the MPH program’s association with a veterinary school is one of its biggest strengths. We were able to gain very relevant knowledge on zoonotic and infectious diseases, become exposed to the one health model and learn from experts in the field. The University is also located in close vicinity to organizations working in the realm of zoonotic diseases including the Public Health Agency of Canada (where I ended up doing my practicum). If you are like me and prefer studying human health, don’t you worry, the focus on human health is not lacking!

In case you missed it, read Sophia’s practicum tips!

About the author

Sophiya earned her Master of Public Health degree from the University of Guelph in 2016 and Honours Bachelor of Science degree from McMaster University in 2014. Following her graduation, Sophiya interned within the communications unit at the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe and is now currently working with the knowledge synthesis team at the Public Health Agency of Canada. Sophiya plans to begin her PhD in the Health Policy program at McMaster University this upcoming fall. Outside of her research interests in health equity, health services and knowledge translation, Sophiya enjoys spending time in local cafes, participating in Zumba classes and travelling with friends and family. To learn more about Sophiya’s experiences, you can visit her personal blog!