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Public Health: A Career in Lifelong Learning

March 31, 2014

I’m sure those of you interested in the New Professionals working group of the OPHA are like me. You may have some experience in public health, or be a student or new graduate. Overall though, you still feel a bit “green” when it comes to many aspects of public health. I’m currently in my first year of a Master of Public Health at the University of Waterloo. I love it but can’t wait for the day I hold that hard-earned degree in my hand. Even so, I know that the day I graduate does not mark the day that I know everything there is to know about public health. What school is preparing me for is the unknown. To me, a career in public health means a career of lifelong learning.
I think we’re fortunate to be entering public health at this point in time. This field is starting to garner more attention. I’ve found that there are fewer blank stares when telling someone I work in or study public health. Public health is being discussed often in media. This increased awareness brings the value of both praise and criticism.  Praise gives us the positive reinforcement that our work is appreciated even though it often goes unnoticed. Criticism challenges us to do better as professionals.
There has been a growing recognition of the importance of a strong public health human resource base. Ontario’s public health sector strategic plan clearly states the need for a competent workforce. The national advisory committee on SARS indicated that “…there must be a … strategy that addresses the important human resources of public health leadership, opportunities for professional and career development …” Along with the support of our future employers, it is up to us to maintain competency. 
There is now an ever growing pool of resources for us to access. The Public Health Agency of Canada offers online courses in the core competencies. Public Health Ontario has numerous educational online webinars available at no cost, as well as a public health library. We have seen the creation of National Collaborating Centres across the country, offering a plethora of information from public health branches as diverse as environmental health and the social determinants of health. And of course, one of the most important and easiest resources to access is the expertise of people working in the field now. Take advantage; buy someone a coffee and pick their brain. You won’t regret it.
The vision of Ontario’s Public health strategic plan is to ensure that Ontarians are the healthiest people in the world, supported by the best public health system in the world. Achieving this is not only the government’s responsibility; it’s also our responsibility as the future leaders of public health. I encourage my fellow new professionals to reach out. Keep learning, keep sharing, and advocate for better public health. Above all, don’t forget that we won’t always be “new professionals”. Be sure that when the time comes you pass down your wisdom to the green newcomers.
About the writer:
Jennifer Snow was inspired to pursue public health after taking a medical geography course in her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto.  She is currently pursuing her Master of Public Health at the University of Waterloo. Jennifer is a certified Public Health Inspector and has also worked in health research.  Her career aspiration is to bring her research and public health field experience together and is very interested in evidence-based public health.  She lives in Hamilton with her husband and two small children.  You can connect with her on Twitter (@jeni_snow) or LinkedIn.
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