From dentistry to public health: The Indian student aiming for a World Health Organisation career

public health

When Ayushi Daga completed her viva exam in 2020 for her Bachelor of Dental Surgery at Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, her professor casually asked her what she wanted to do after graduating. Eager to set her goals high, her immediate answer was that she wanted to open a clinic or work for the World Health Organization.

He then responded with a quote by Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver, daredevil and BASE jumper – “The only limit in life is the one you set yourself.” 

His words sparked something in Daga’s brain. She knew she wanted to do something more than just dentistry in India, and she carried that passion with her throughout her 12-month rotatory internship with the Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC)

During her residency, she handled emergency COVID-19 patients and worked in emergency rooms on maxillofacial surgery cases. At the same time, she had the opportunity to work with rural and underprivileged communities, planning and executing multiple health promotion and education projects under both ESIC and the Government of India. 

It was towards the end of her residency that she decided to make the leap into the field of public health.

“During my dentistry degree, I took a unit called Public Health Dentistry, which was a linking point between dentistry and public health,” says Daga. “After being involved in so many community projects in my residency, I realised it was the perfect bridge and path to start my career in public health.”

This new chapter in her life began in Melbourne, Australia, where Daga is now pursuing her Master of Public Health from Monash University

“It was a big risk to move away from clinical practice, but thanks to all the support from my parents, I did it,” says Daga.  “I have always wanted to do better, and I tried my best in my circumstances as a student, so when I started looking at career prospects in public health, I knew this was my calling.”

public health

Daga was invited to attend the 2024 Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix to learn more from women in sports and technology. Source: Ayushi Daga

Staying busy in her new environment of public health

Now in her third semester at Monash, Daga’s been living her life to the fullest. “As an international student, I’m happy with my choice,” she says. “The faculty has been supportive throughout my journey, and I’ve been motivated to do better every step of the way.” 

For her Master of Public Health, Daga studies the intersection of public health and environmental sustainability. 

The reason? Global health is now a part of every public health conversation, now more than ever, and Daga is determined to contribute to the field.

“There is plenty of research on how climate change has impacted diseases over the last few decades, and it will get worse if we don’t take significant actions to change it,” says Daga. “I have seen a great shift in mindsets in recent times, and thanks to the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals, more and more people and organisations are opting for and promoting sustainable living.”

Her passion for the field and determination to spread this awareness drove her to apply for a position with Monash University’s student ambassador programme.

But Daga was at a crossroads. Two positions stood out to her: International Ambassador, where the role involves connecting with potential students and sharing about what it’s like to study at Monash, and Global Ambassador, who delivers events that connect students to Monash support services and give them a sense of belonging.

Uncertain about which she qualified for, she applied to both positions.

“I was so unconfident that I didn’t even tell my family about applying,” says Daga. “Funnily enough, I got both and ended up picking the role that aligned more with my personal goals for public health.”

Now a Global Student Ambassador for Monash, Daga has kept herself busy.

In her first project, she collaborated with the teaching faculty to implement a new curriculum unit into Monash’s Public Health studies. The unit, known as FMNHS Planetary Health Education – Epidemiology and Preventive Medicines, was presented as an online module (pre-workshop activity) and in-person workshop exploring Melioidosis and its interplay between planetary health and infectious diseases.

There’s more to come from Daga too.

“I’m currently in the planning phase of a project to improve the international student experience at Monash University,” says Daga. “It includes collaborations with various key stakeholders and student communities to aid international student welfare.”

Beyond her work as a Global Student Ambassador, Daga can also be found interning with Dental Health Services Victoria to carry out consumer testing and provide feedback to improve the health literacy of families using the region’s Maternal and Child Health Services

“My internship experience here has given me insights about how public health in Victoria functions,” she says. “This experience has bridged my knowledge as a student while also preparing me to become a working professional in the field of public health.”

To Daga, there is no greater learning than learned experiences. During her time in Australia, she has interacted with multiple communities from all walks of life, creating spaces for education and communication surrounding health equity and promotion.

All her projects have only inspired her to push on and do more.

public health

Daga pictured at her work with the Australian Red Cross. Source: Ayushi Daga

Volunteering in multiple organisations

In addition to her responsibilities as a student ambassador and an intern, Daga is also an active volunteer. 

She works with The Iceberg Foundation (TIF), a community-led and operated mental health organisation committed to helping LGBTIQA+ and neurodivergent people. Here, she collaborates with organisation stakeholders to create health promotion programmes and partners with keynote speakers to produce informative sessions on health-related topics. 

“Mental health is really important to me, and health equity even more so,” says Daga. “When I came across The Iceberg Foundation, I was amazed by what they did.”

“TIF is helping so many communities that are unable to receive health equity, especially while accessing mental health services. To me, that was the most attractive aspect of volunteering here.” 

But Daga’s volunteering work doesn’t stop with TIF — she is also part of the Victoria team for the Australian Kookaburra Kids Foundation, which educates children and their families about mental health; her volunteering with the Australian Red Cross also allows her to deliver awareness programmes to schools and work with students.

“The Australian Red Cross is doing some groundbreaking work in disaster preparation and supporting state emergency services, from house fires to something as extreme as bushfires,” says Daga. “My role involves providing psychological first aid during emergency situations, along with support such as Register.Find.Reunite for victims who are separated from their loved ones. At the same time, I also help with public outreach for the Australian Red Cross Rediplan.”

Daga is proud to say she is reaping the fruits of her labour. These experiences have all helped her secure a position as a Student Ambassador for Study Melbourne, a Victorian Government initiative that supports international students in their academic journey in the state. 

“I’m currently working on two exciting projects with Study Melbourne, one of which was my own pitch,” says Daga. “They are about promoting public health, so I’m excited about that. I’m also in touch with an organisation called VicWise, and will be doing some amazing work with them for migrant communities here in Victoria.” 

public health

Global ambassadors at Monash University contribute to events and help shape the student experience through a variety of roles and leadership positions within the programme.

How to balance your academics and aspirations

It’s not difficult to have big goals and dreams, but not many have the tenacity to see them through.

We spoke to Daga for some personal insights into the field of public health and for her advice to those who are ready to take life by the reigns. 

As an international student, how do you think cultural differences influence perceptions and approaches to public health, and how do you navigate these differences?

Cultural differences have a massive impact on the influence and perception of public health. Public health is not accessible to everyone in the same way, and health inequity persists, especially based on socioeconomic status. 

So far, I have realised how every conversation about public health is guided by one’s lived experiences, which may be extremely variable for different cultures. That being said, I strongly believe that coming from a different cultural background is an advantage for me. Australia has a very diverse migrant population, and when we talk about public health, my background knowledge of the diverse cultural experiences of South Asian communities is my biggest strength. 

How do you balance your academic pursuits with your numerous volunteering and internship commitments? 

I have a newfound love for Google Calendar. With it, I have grown to be very organised. I make sure everything is on my calendar because it makes life so much easier. 

While I volunteer a lot, I value how most of my experiences parallel the skills I’m learning in my master’s. This really helps in aiding the learning process and keeping the inspiration to volunteer active. I channel what I learned from my volunteer roles into my academics and vice versa, which helps me grow professionally as well. 

When it comes to things like assignments or studying, I make time for it properly and only pay attention to things depending on how much they weigh towards my academic progress. This rationing enables me to have multiple active roles and get good grades while I am at it.

public health

Ever since joining Study Melbourne, Daga has taken part in many exciting events with her peers, working together to create one-of-a-kind events for international students. Source: Ayushi Daga


Reflecting on your experiences thus far, what key insights or lessons have you gained about the field of public health, and how have they shaped your approach to your work or studies? 

There are a few key takeaways from public health and health promotion that have shaped my approach to everything in life now: equity, empowerment, and community engagement. I’ve been working to build up these skills by using them in volunteer roles, and they have also been at the core of my academic success.

Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations within the field of public health?

With my current qualifications and passion for bringing equity to public health, my goal is to build an entire legacy in the field. My role as a public health professional is not limited by boundaries; I can work in any region of the world, and that is exactly my goal: I want to work in Global Public Health for the World Health Organisation.

After graduation, I would love to develop some early-career learnings here in Australia. But later in life, I want to contribute more towards global public health and health promotion, as those are my true two passions.

What advice would you give to individuals who are considering a career in public health, especially those with diverse academic backgrounds like yourself?

I think it’s important for people to realise that your education and career should be in sync with your passions. And sometimes you don’t know before you try it. After all, the only limit in life is the one you set yourself!