Read part 1 of my blog where I share my journey in deciding to pursue an MPH and two lessons I learned in the 20 months I spent in Saskatoon.
What I do now
By day, I am an Epidemiologist…
I graduated in the spring of 2013. Soon after, in the summer of 2013, I landed a job as an Outbreak Epidemiologist (my “dream” job, and the reason I pursued an MPH) at the Public Health Agency of Canada.
As an Outbreak Epidemiologist, I worked on national projects that supported cluster detection and outbreak response activities – teamwork and communication are key in this role.
Here’s a great video series that explains this work!
As of March 2018, I moved into a different role as an opioids Public Health Officer (still with PHAC) placed in Manitoba. My work is to support the opioids overdose surveillance work in the province.
The amazing part of my career at PHAC has to be the support for lifelong learning, and the stories I get to hear about the work that my colleagues have done throughout their careers. Many Epidemiologists and public health professionals I have met and worked with have been involved in some exciting outbreaks like the 2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, 2008 Listeriosis outbreak in Canada, 2002 SARS outbreak, or the 2000 Walkerton outbreak. These stories are a constant reminder to me of how impactful Epidemiology is. As a colleague once told me, “everyone needs an Epidemiologist, they just don’t know it yet”.
…by night I work on my passion projects!
Being in Saskatoon not only trained me to become a public health professional, but it also helped me discover my love for building things, which led me to the world of entrepreneurship. I have always looked for solutions to problems in my life. It didn’t click to me then that I could be the one to find the solution, and try to solve these problems on a larger scale for others to benefit from.
During my “Research Methods in Public Health” course, I based my term paper on a population that I belonged to – Tamil Canadians. I proposed an overall goal to conduct a needs assessment in the Canadian Tamil population, beginning with the Greater Toronto Area. The needs assessment would address the health needs of the population to provide services and tools to improve the community’s health. As I wrote this paper, I had an itch to actually conduct the needs assessment back home in Toronto.
In August of 2013, I founded a not-for-profit organization, the Tamil Health Association (THA), to focus on research within the Tamil population. We did indeed go on to conducting the needs assessment study in the summer of 2013 (in addition to a number of other research projects, community outreach events, health promotion activities, and collaborations with many organizations). This initiative led us to understand that the community was interested and looking for resources to help make lifestyle diet changes. This then in turn led to a $15,000 grant from the Women’s College Hospital to explore the theme further. This year we will celebrate 5 years since launch, and we continue to stay motivated to continue finding answers to some tough questions within our community. Coincidentally, or not, four of the five current Board of Directors are U of S MPH alumni (I did say I made lifelong friends there)!
As I worked on THA, I would receive countless emails and LinkedIn messages from individuals looking to pursue an MPH, or who had graduated from an MPH program. I never turned anyone down because I was once in their position looking for guidance. So, every weekend, I would sit down with a handful of eager students.
Sitting down with these young professionals, I realised that their questions were almost always the same: What was your public health journey like? What did you do after undergrad? What motivated you to start THA? Should I pursue an MPH?
I patiently responded to them all, using the story I had recited over the years.
One summer however, I sat down with so many people that I knew it wasn’t practical for me to do this every weekend! I needed a solution, to not only lessen my load but to try to help more students and young professionals, especially those who may not be confident enough to reach out to professionals they didn’t know.
In the winter of 2016, I started building PHS POT. And in January of 2017, I launched PH SPOT with the help of some friends and my husband. PH SPOT was going to be a dedicated space for public health professionals. The mission was to support public health professionals to build their careers. We would deliver hand-picked public health jobs, resources, mentorship, and inspiration through the platform. Most importantly, I had replaced my one-on-one stories by encouraging other public health professionals to share theirs. These specially curated blogs showcased real-life success stories, failures, resilience, career advice and insights from new and established professionals.
I realised that everyone’s journey in public health was valuable to the next generation of public health professionals, and even those who had an established career. I strongly believe that inspiration can come in any form and at any point in one’s career. Whether contributors chose to share a story on why they decided to pursue education in public health, or perhaps they were one of the leaders involved in the eradication of Smallpox, we wanted to capture it all. PH SPOT was on its way to being a brand that supported continuous learning, big dreams, and a sense of community within the public health field.
And I think we are getting there!
Public health has taken me through a number of different paths, and that’s one thing I love about it. It is such a diverse field that you could take your degree anywhere you wanted, you just have to be creative.
I challenge you to think outside of the box, dream big, and venture out to find amazing opportunities that the world offers.
My degree has taken me to serve as a public servant, start a not-for-profit organization, and has even allowed me to dabble in entrepreneurship. And my journey doesn’t stop here. I hope to use my MPH degree to further explore global health, health consulting, and even technology.
Where will your public health degree take you?
About the author:
Sujani Sivanantharajah is an Epidemiologist by training. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in Biology and Health Studies, and then went on to complete a Masters of Public Health (MPH) degree at the University of Saskatchewan. After guiding a number of students and new grads over the past 7 years, Sujani created PH SPOT to reach and inspire a larger number of emerging public health professionals to build their career.