As a graduate of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) Canadian Field Epidemiology Program (CFEP) I am often connected with people interested in learning more about the program.
Over the years, I have received and answered a number of questions regarding the program. I have realized that a lot of the questions fall into the following three main categories:
- What is your background? How did you become interested in Field Epidemiology?
- What does a Field Epidemiologist actually do?
- How do I become a Field Epidemiologist? What is the application process like?
Based on the conversations I have had over the years, I have written a three-part series blog to reach more public health professionals and help answer questions they may have about the program!
This blog tackles Question 1.
Field Epidemiology: An Origin Story
I completed my B.A (Honours) in forensic psychology from the University of Saskatchewan. I fully intended to go to graduate school to become a clinical psychologist once I convocated. However, after my undergraduate degree I decided I wanted a break before committing to another five to seven years of school. Using the research skills I had gained during my degree, I obtained a position as a research assistant in a local public health unit in Saskatoon. My plan was to work there for a year and then go back to school to do my master’s degree in psychology.
To my surprise,one year quickly turned into six! I loved public health as soon as I started. I liked the variety of topics that public health covered – I was working on influenza, health equity, HIV/AIDS, STIs and immunization, among other subject matters. I also realized that I had always been interested in public health, I just hadn’t known what the field was called or the job opportunities that were available. I had actually never heard of an epidemiologist prior to starting my position in public health in 2006.
During my second year as a research assistant I had the opportunity to work with a field epidemiologist who had been placed with our unit through CFEP. I was not familiar with the program, but after learning about it from her, and seeing the interesting work she was a part of, I knew I wanted to apply. However, I was missing a key component of the eligibility requirements: a master’s degree.
So, back to school I went. Instead of pursuing a degree in psychology, I completed my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the University of Saskatchewan over a period of three years while continuing to work for the local public health unit. During my MPH I completed two practicums: one in Regina with Health Canada’s First Nations Inuit Health Branch and one in Ottawa with PHAC’s Travel Health Division. I made many useful contacts during my practicums and was introduced to new subject areas. I strongly encourage anyone completing a master’s degree to complete multiple practicums, if possible. Nothing beats applied experience and the connections you make are invaluable while moving forward in your career.
After my second practicum, I returned to Saskatoon where I continued to work at the local public health unit, and as a research coordinator for a local HIV/AIDS research group.
CFEP continued to be my goal. Since applications are only posted once a year in the fall for a start date of the following September, I had to be patient. I also knew the program was very competitive – there was a high chance I would not be accepted on my first try (though I was very determined to keep trying for as long as it took). Therefore, in the meantime I had been applying for any and all epidemiology positions I saw across Canada.
One of these applications was for an epidemiologist position with the local health authority in Winnipeg, covering a maternity leave. I didn’t think I would get an interview, let alone be offered the position, but that is exactly what happened. I was thrilled with the offer, but I was also apprehensive about leaving my family and friends and moving to Winnipeg. Thankfully, I was able to see that this was a great opportunity to build my career and so I packed up my car and drove the nine hours to my new home in Winnipeg.
I worked in Winnipeg as an epidemiologist for a year, focusing primarily on influenza and tuberculosis surveillance. During this time, I was finally able to apply to CFEP. More than nine months after applying, on a Friday at approximately 4:30pm, I received a phone call with the news I had been dreaming of and working towards for the past five years: I would be part of Cohort 39 of the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program!
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Comment below if you have any questions regarding the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program, or have thoughts to share about it!
For more information on the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program, please visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/public-health-practice/canadian-field-epidemiology-program.html
About the author:
Tanis Kershaw is an Epidemiologist with the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Outbreak Management Division in Guelph. Tanis holds a B.A. (Honours) degree in psychology and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Saskatchewan. Prior to working at the Outbreak Management Division, Tanis completed the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program where she was placed at Alberta Health in Edmonton. She has also worked as an epidemiologist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and as a researcher with the Public Health Observatory in Saskatoon. Tanis enjoys working in all areas of public health, but has a particular interest in communicable diseases and outbreak investigation. When not solving outbreaks, Tanis can be found travelling the world.