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Landing Your First Job in Public Health: Lessons Learned

January 13, 2014

So the time has come. The last semester is wrapping up, and you are feeling progressively lighter on your feet as each passing day brings you closer to graduation. The countless hours spent memorizing, studying, writing, rewriting, proposing, and defending, all promise to finally bear fruit as you leave campus life behind with the ultimate reward in hand: a few letters, added to your name, that will imprint themselves on every résumé you send out, and provide you with the legitimacy needed to help ensure safe passage into the ‘real world’ of public health practice. Congratulations!

The hard part is over, right? I certainly thought so. I thought wrong. Here are some of the struggles I faced and the valuable lessons I learned on my journey toward establishing an early career in public health.

Lesson Learned #1: Be realistic and, above all, patient.
Like many others, I expected to land a great job almost immediately after graduation. After all, I had done everything right! I had kept my grades up, I had been involved in extracurricular activities, I had volunteered, and I had made sure to take advantage of the career counselling and résumé-building opportunities offered by my academic institutions. What I failed to realize then was that there were many others just like me – fresh out of school, similar qualifications, with the same burning desire to change the world – who also felt like they had earned their right to gainful employment. Not to mention that some of my competition already had relevant work experience, were objectively more knowledgeable than I was, and (quite frankly) were better candidates. It took numerous rejections, a couple of unsuccessful interviews, and more résumés than I can count, before I finally got the break I needed.

Lesson Learned #2: The “job before the job” has more value than you might think.
Eventually, I secured a position at a population health research centre where I was responsible for recruiting participants and collecting survey data. These were familiar tasks that I had had plenty of practice with throughout my research assistantships in school. Although the job did not reflect my ultimate career goals, I genuinely feel that the role helped me to develop organizational and interpersonal skills that couldn’t be fully taught in an academic setting. I learned about the importance of working with other professionals and the significance of being accountable to somebody other than myself. Although the job was a valuable learning experience, I ultimately felt as though I had more to offer and so I eventually sought higher pastures. I strongly feel, however, that the skills I developed during this time were pivotal in my progress toward a satisfying career in public health.

Lesson Learned #3: Advocate for yourself and take risks.
While I was learning a lot in my role coordinating research, I continued to search for emerging job opportunities that would bring me closer to my goal of working for a public health agency. Remaining open to new opportunities, in spite of having a secure job, was difficult, and when an opportunity did come my way, I hesitated at the risks involved. After 11 months of working in research, I came across an opening at the public health unit back in my hometown. I applied and received an interview. The job was a 5-month contract covering a maternity leave and accepting the position would have required me to leave the city where I was employed, move my apartment, and find a new place to live – all without any guarantee of permanent employment. I took the interview not knowing what I would do, and was ultimately offered the position. After considering my personal goals and weighing my options, I calculated that this opportunity would likely open doors for me in the realm of public health and perhaps even lead to something more permanent. Thankfully, I was right. After four months of working on a contract basis, I was offered a permanent position. I am now approaching my one-year anniversary at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

Establishing a career in any field can be more difficult than new graduates often expect. Remember to stay positive and to remain focused on your goals. It was only after numerous humbling experiences and disappointments that I was able to eventually find my way to a fulfilling career in public health.

About the writer:
Eric Nadalin is a Health Promotion Specialist in the Chronic Disease Prevention & Workplace Wellness Department at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. He received his Bachelor of Arts (Hon.) in Kinesiology from Western University in 2009 and his Master of Human Kinetics in Exercise Psychology from The University of Windsor in 2011. Eric is a member of the OPHA’s Students and New Professionals Working Group and is responsible for engaging students in the OPHA so that they may take advantage of the opportunities that come with membership. You can connect with Eric through LinkedIn or email at

For Members:
If you are an OPHA member who enjoys writing, is passionate about public health, and have a story to share, you can be featured here next. Contact Megha Bhavsar at Please include “OPHA Blog” in the subject. Include 2-3 ideas of topics you would like to write about.
Topics can include (but are not limited to): your internship/practicum experience, entering the workforce, an opinion piece on a current public health hot topic, public health research, etc., or perhaps you’re a member with an established public health career and would like to share your wisdom with the next generation!  

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