University of Waterloo: Transforming public health systems around the world

Many tend to take the public health system for granted – until a massive outbreak upsets societal order and questions are raised over who failed to do what.

But not at the University of Waterloo’s School of Public Health and Health Systems in Canada. The school is all about being proactive, rather than reactive, in matters that concern humankind’s survival on this planet.

Recognized as the country’s most innovative institution for the 25th consecutive year makes sure every component of its public health school, from its research to the programs on offer, serve one unwavering purpose: producing graduates ready to solve the health challenges of both today and tomorrow.

World-changing research and faculty

The School of Public Health and Health System’s teaching and research reflect an acknowledgment of the vital role public health factors – such as the environment we live in, our socioeconomic status, and access to health services – play in ensuring a healthy society. In fact, some estimates suggest these factors can determine up to 90 percent of our health.

This awareness forms the bedrock of the institution’s overall ethos to aspire, inspire and transform, and is ingrained in student and faculty mindsets from early on.

This is done by focusing on the development of capacity, tools, and understanding of the processes and structures that shape the complex system of population health, as well as to facilitate the integrated and efficient delivery of health care. Key focus areas include: chronic disease prevention and management, food and water safety, health and aging, global health, health informatics, health policy and health systems, environments and health, and creating healthy workplaces – researchers explore determinants from every angle, from social, political and economic factors, to technological innovations.

In addition to instilling this in their teaching, researchers also work in close partnership with key players in the global public health landscape. Health ministries, the World Health Organization, Public Health Agency of Canada and private industries are just among the few partners Waterloo engages with to understand and develop solutions to health’s most complex questions.

A state-of-the-art degree is the first step in tackling the world’s toughest health challenges

Public health is an inspiring field dedicated to improving humanity’s quality of life. Teachers, administrators, social workers, laboratory scientists, and attorneys play key roles in this.

When Le-Tien Duong was in high school, she loved writing and the social sciences but did not know how to apply it to a career and to making a difference in the world.

“When I found the Public Health program, I was thrilled that I could apply my love for the social sciences (and more) to the health field,” the 3rd year Public Health undergraduate said.

“It’s also very multidisciplinary – we have classes in biology, psychology, policy, marketing, and more! It also gave me a completely new perspective on how I look at my everyday life and health itself. The best part is that I know I can apply whatever I learn to make some change in the world.”

A signature undergraduate program at the school is the comprehensive Co-Operative Education program, which blends academic studies with real-world work experience. Students are placed in paid employment during their undergraduate studies, allowing them to connect with an extensive network of employers and organisation in their field and beyond.

Post-baccalaureate graduate programs to create public health leaders for the future

For those looking to advance their career in the public health sector, look no further than a graduate qualification at the school to enhance their skills.

What Waterloo offers to candidates looking to join this rewarding field is an array of Master’s and Doctoral programs that are both practice as well as research-based, and will tackle the key focus research areas the school undertakes.

For the research-based Master of Science and Doctoral programs in Public Health and Health Systems, students will take on a trans-disciplinary, population health approach to address the problems Canada and the rest of the world are facing in health and health systems. Highly competitive funding packages up to CAD$100,000 are available to accepted students.

Andrew Robertson already had a fulfilling career as a Registered Kenisiologist for a few years before he realised he wanted to do more to help not just individuals, but also communities and entire populations.

Robertson, who then joined Waterloo’s Msc program in public health, had this to say: “I felt invigorated by the environment… using state of the art technology to further innovation and discovery.”

Students can also expect a supportive and encouraging relationship with their supervisors at Waterloo. Danielle Brandow, an MSc student at Waterloo, said her supervisor Professor Kelly Skinner was tremendous help when she was researching the health of indigenous people, and the disparities that many face when living in northern communities.

“Professor Skinner is always available with an open door to chat – she is a constant support for classes and research,” Brandow says.

The school also offers a host of other graduate programs for those looking to conduct deeper research in their fields of interest within the health discipline. These include research-based doctoral courses like the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Aging, Health, and Well-being; the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Work and Health, and course-based professional Master’s courses such as the Master of Health Evaluation (MHE); Master of Health Informatics (MHI); and the Master of Public Health (MPH).

A rapidly-growing school in the heart of Canada’s high-tech corridor

Although a small city, Waterloo packs a punch with many big-city amenities and a strategic location right in the middle of a leading Canadian technology hub. Just over an hour from Toronto, students can choose from plenty of places to live near the campus and be part of a vibrant community (check out the Waterloo Fest that takes students to explore Uptown Waterloo in a fun festival event style!)

While many international students in other universities struggle to fit in with their newfound classmates and housemates, Waterloo’s “living-learning” communities is designed to solve this issue by allowing small groups of students in the same faculty to live together in the same area.

When Ashish Gante first arrived at his residence, he didn’t really know the people living on the same floor as he did. But residing at the Biology Living-learning community meant the 1st year biology student met many of them in classes as well.

“That really helped me gel with the rest of my floormates,” Ashish says.

For Michelle Rhee, a 1st year student living in the Accounting and Finance Living-Learning Community, being close with her peers who share the same experiences with her, is a big plus point.

“Worrying about where am I going to get textbooks, or who am I going to sit next to in class – those worries kind of dissolve because you’re part of such a close-knit community,” Michelle says.

Each group will have a senior peer leader to mentor and support first year students. Formal and informal conversations with faculty are also made so much effective in this peer community.

Making a difference begins at Waterloo

In his welcome message, Feridun Hamdullahpur, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Waterloo, says the institution is “a place where students, faculty and staff routinely deliver excellence”.

And as the School of Public Health and Health Systems’ forward-thinking programs, research and alumni have shown over the years, Feridun’s description couldn’t be truer.

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