You might ask yourself, how did I get here?
You each have something to offer the world of Public Health; the trick is finding what lights the fire in your belly. Finding that spark can be hard, especially if you don’t know where to start. I’m here to share some experiences and advice that have helped shaped my career – these are the things that I try to remember through the best and worst of days.
Early in my career, I was fortunate to work with supervisors and managers that I greatly admired, and still do. These individuals shaped my work ethic, helped me understand the working world, and what it means to have the drive to follow your passion.
“Your life is short but your career is long” – wise words I received from a great mentor.
A career is many things to many people, but there is no denying the fact that you’re going to spend a good proportion of your day towards it. Though it sounds cliché, those hours are going to go by a lot happier if you work towards something you love, in an environment you like, with people who support your growth and development. It may sound like a lot to ask for, but my own career has proved to me that this can be a reality. But in order for this to happen, you must take the time to understand what excites you, what your skills are, and where you’d like to improve. If you can’t find a way to get the most out of your current position, don’t be afraid to start thinking about your next move. Never ever be too afraid to accept that it’s time to move on.
Think ahead about your career path.
I’ll admit when I finished my postgraduate degree, I had no idea where to begin. It felt like all my friends found lucrative positions after university while I had spent valuable time in England pursuing my masters. When I moved back to Toronto, it didn’t take me long to learn that finding a job was tough, especially when I had no idea what I was looking for and little to no work experience. I remembered my thesis supervisor telling me I was good at research so that’s where I started. I was excited when I landed my first position as a medical market researcher, though quickly realized I was not interested in medical markets. I felt deflated, quit my job and dedicated my time to taking fitness leadership courses – something I loved.
Eventually, I landed a job as a research associate, and worked for various healthcare organizations. I was happy managing projects, connecting with professionals and learning about different aspects of healthcare. Until one day, my manager told me that I deserved more than what I was doing, and that this position should only be a stepping-stone to something better. It was the first time I was ever pushed and told to start thinking about my next steps. From that point on, I’ve thought a lot about my career and how to achieve more as a public health professional. I urge you to do the same – think about your next step and make it a point to connect with those in the roles you admire. Very rarely will someone say no to a thirty-minute conversation.
Work hard, be kind, and keep your options open.
People say it’s a small world, and while public health is quite broad, it’s also quite small. I’ve often held positions where I’ve ended up working with the same colleagues from past organizations or people I went to university with. Your network, character and reputation have the ability to bring you forward in ways you could never imagine. For example, a failed interview doesn’t always mean a lost opportunity. There could be someone on the interview panel who may recommend you for a different position – it sounds far fetched, but it has happened to me!
I believe that keeping your options open, and attaining a variety of experiences will enable you to bring unique perspectives to every role you do. When I couldn’t find a full time job, I took on a part time position working as a cardiac rehabilitation assistant. I remember that role more vividly than most. It taught me first hand how patients recover from a stroke or heart attack, and the realities of how the health care system works. Since then, my experience in research, program development, evaluation and policy development/implementation have all brought a greater understanding to my roles in public health. I’ve also been an active volunteer, which helps me connect with the community on health issues and gives me the opportunity to offer my skills and build new skills. All of these experiences have helped me develop not only in my career, but as a person.
About the author:
Growing up, Shilpa has always been passionate about health and wellness. Following her degree in Applied Human Nutrition from The University of Guelph, and MSc in Health Promotion from King’s College at The University of London in England, she returned to Toronto to begin her career journey. Alongside her passion for globetrotting, she’s been actively working in various aspects of public health and is a dedicated volunteer assisting with diabetes prevention education and outreach throughout the Greater Toronto Area.