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How one Western grad landed her dream job... at Western

Shannon Sibbald, PhD

Shannon Sibbald, PhD, recalls the excitement she felt when she received an email announcing that Schulich Medicine & Dentistry would be developing a brand new program focused on public health.

With a background in health policy management, health promotion and health systems, it was something she wanted to be a part of.

In this Q&A, the young faculty member discusses how she was able to take on an integral role in the development of the Master of Public Health Program, what the experience has been like, and how the work has influenced the direction of her research.

What is your education background?
After high school, I came to Western University. I was in the second graduating class of the brand new program through the Faculty of Health Sciences, and completed a bachelor of health sciences in 2002. I then went to the University of Toronto where I completed a master’s degree and PhD within the Department of Health Policy Management and Evaluation.

I came back to Western to complete a postdoctoral fellowship. It was a two-year fellowship, but I ended up having one of my children in the middle of it, so it ended up being closer to three years.

After completing your postdoctoral fellowship, how did you end up working at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?
I actually ended up working at the Southwest Local Health Integration Network as an Integration and Design Specialist and did a lot of programming. I was able to get some hands-on experience, which was great, but then the Master of Public Health Program came about and I was hired to teach the course on health promotion as a limited duties faculty member in 2013.

Since then, I interviewed for the position I am in now, which is Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine, Schulich Interfaculty Program in Public Health and School of Health Studies.

Helping to develop a brand new program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry must have been challenging and exciting. Why did you want to get involved with that process?
I remember receiving the very first email from Dr. Michael J. Strong who was seeking interested people. I saw it as a unique opportunity, and from that day I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. I made it a point to continuously meet with the leadership that were developing the program, before they had even invited me to be a part of it.

Being part of the second graduating class in the undergraduate program I completed helped me value being a part of something new. Also, through all of my training I had exposure to multiple sectors of the health system, and do consider myself a health systems researcher. Even though it is a program in public health, I realized there was a strong undertone of it becoming an integrated program.

The MPH Program is now in its fourth year. Do you still enjoy the work you are doing within the Program?
I love it. The work is very fulfilling and very challenging. The style of teaching we do is case-based, and I’ve really taken that on as my own passion. After attending several workshops on case-based learning and case-based teaching at the Ivey Business School and Harvard University, I now travel to national and international conferences to present on it myself because I firmly believe in its relevance, practicality and ability to make students better learners, decision makers and leaders.

What has it been like supervising students in the MPH Program?
All of the students in the MPH Program get put into teams at the beginning of each year, and each team gets what we call a faculty advisor. All of the faculty members within the MPH program are assigned a team, so every year I’ve supervised a team of five to seven students. The MPH Program is non-research based, so these students aren’t supporting my research — I work with them on more program-specific deliverables like their practicum work.

I’ve learned so much from these students, especially since their backgrounds and experiences are so diverse. There is this saying that to teach is to learn twice, and I truly believe I’ve experienced that — I learn from them every day. The case-based method allows us to leverage the different backgrounds these students have and bring them to the conversation.

Tell me a bit more about the research you are currently working on.
I do a lot of work around implementation science. I’m trying to understand how different groups, individuals and organizations use knowledge. I’ve spent time looking into how teams access, share and store knowledge. I’m very interested in primary teams that work across the health sector, because the patients they work with are complex and have multi-morbidities so they need to work in several settings. Teamwork isn’t new, but a lot of the research so far has only been focused on one sector. I’m interested in the cross-sector approach to team-based care which we need to be thinking about for our patient population.

What made you want to get into this type of work?
I do credit my mentors that I worked with during my undergraduate degree. These people helped me figure out that I have strong skills in research and that I can make changes to and impact the health system from a systems perspective instead of a patient perspective.

What is the potential impact of this work?
At the end of the day, I still want my work to help patients. I want to help at the bedside in terms of providing the best quality care to patients, but using patients’ perspectives to define what that looks like. 

What are some things you enjoy doing in your personal life?
I have four young children between the ages of two and 11, so they keep me very busy. We enjoy spending a lot of time outside together, and enjoy going to our cottage in Huntsville. I also teach fitness classes at GoodLife Fitness as a way to keep myself in shape — it’s a great way to relax and get my mind off of things.