By: William Bell
I had the opportunity this year to go to the Emerging Professionals in Public Health Conference and it was a highlight of my semester. The conference introduced me to the ins and outs of public health, and to what it is like to be a Public Health professional.
My favourite part was definitely hearing from Dr. Fran Scott, a public health specialist at McMaster with a lifetime of experience in public health. What was so incredible about hearing from her was to learn about all sorts of major disasters that she has been there to deal with. Working with a suspicious gay community during the AIDs epidemic, trying to coordinate and organize Toronto’s response to the SARS outbreak, etc. At the same time she also had incredible stories of when she had to learn from the people she was helping. Sometimes a fisherman who fishes in the Hamilton Harbour knows the risks of eating fish from the water already, but keeps going anyways. Our perspective is not always final, and seeing another way of looking at it seems like an incredible gift that those had given Dr. Scott who she was working to keep healthy.
And that was just one of the keynote speakers, the other, Dr. Thomas Piggott is in population health, and he gave us suggestions as to how to better excel in the field. His message was inspirational and a call to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I’m sure that his advice will stick with me as I meander my way into the Public Health profession or any other.
At this point we broke up into groups and went to a series of workshops held by researchers and public health workers alike. One of the main takeaways from all this was simply this: “go upstream.” All of the preeminent researchers and doctors we met had got into the field because of a simple fact that sometimes the most effective way to intervene is by anticipating medical problems before they happen and trying to prevent them. There were presentations by people who were for this reason promoting changes to labour law among other things, and in particular I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Jennifer Brasch who was an ER Psychiatrist primarily working with patients following suicide attempts who is now planning ways to prevent those suicide attempts in the first place. Her work on this cause has been admirable and I was thrilled to hear from her.
As well, I had the opportunity to meet many graduate students in McMaster’s MPH program. These are individuals who are experiencing first hand what is involved in research on public health causes, and their specialties reflected that, from exercise program organizing to health economics to basic science with a public health twist.
Having encountered all of these various personalities, specialists, and stories I feel more excited to learn where this burgeoning field will go from here. I have the conference to thank for kindling my interest in a field that is not regularly on anybody’s radar but has the chance to help more people than any amount of treatment after the fact could do.