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

I started my MSc in Global Health at the University of Alberta in the fall of 2014 to continue my studies focused on my interest in medicine and global health. My original thesis idea focused on a secondary analysis of malaria prevalence data collected in the DRC. A project that my supervisor has been involved with for several years and that I thought was interesting. Throughout the first year of my program I took courses on epidemiology, biostatistics, infectious diseases, qualitative research, global health and project development. These courses and my experiences in the school had slowly changed my entire way of thinking. I soon learned the importance of prevention of disease and how just one successful public health intervention could have a wide and lasting impact. I was also introduced to the concept of social determinants of health and the importance of equality, equity, and discrimination. Eventually I started looking at the prevention of diseases rather than the cure of them through medicine. And my entire focus and interest shifted to be proactive rather than reactive.

As I learned more about public health and global health, I also learned about the less than perfect past of global health and the concepts of the ivory tower researcher, white privilege and the negative impact they had in developing countries. I came to realize that if I wanted to be successful in global health I would have to step out of my comfort zone by actually learning from the people who are impacted by global health issues instead of trying to ‘fix’ them. I started searching for a research project that would have a positive impact on those involved. With the support of my supervisors I started a research partnership with a community based non-profit organization and we developed a project to explore the experience of Syrian refugees as they access healthcare in Edmonton. This project has been an incredible experience.

Not to say my program is perfect, a thesis-based master’s degree is an immense amount of work. Research is difficult, messy and ever changing. Some days I spend hours immersed in listening to interviews, reading papers, and writing chapters. Other days I realize I haven’t looked at my thesis for three weeks and I cannot remember anything I have written.

My one piece of advice to all potential Public Health students is to be open-minded about your thesis topic, enjoy your courses and what you learn and try to make important connections with others in your university, community and government to truly make a difference. You will never get another chance to be in such an important program with amazing faculty and students around you so you should enjoy it while you’re here. I would also challenge Public Health students to not be afraid of going out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself to do a little bit harder thesis project, join your students association and take advantage of the opportunities you will only have while you’re in school, and definitely network as much as you can. By stepping outside my comfort zone I have had the opportunity to work with a remarkable community based non-profit organization, to meet some wonderful and dedicated value-driven people and to work on a thesis project that is having an impact.

 

About the author:

Rhianna is currently working on her Master of Science in Public Health with a specialization in Global Health at the University of Alberta. Her mixed-methods thesis is focusing on how population displacement caused by violent conflict impacts health, specifically in children. She is exploring this topic in two different contexts: malaria in children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the privately sponsored Syrian refugees in Edmonton. These two research projects will highlight the importance of providing quality healthcare for vulnerable populations. Rhianna has also become involved in the newcomer community in Edmonton by volunteering for two of the main settlement agencies.