Feature: Alumni-led consulting firm hosts practicum placements disrupted by COVID-19

For students in the Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Management of Applied Science (MMASc) in Global Health Systems (GHS) programs, practicum placements are a key component of their learning and career development.

And when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted plans for placements across Canada and abroad, three MPH alumni stepped in to help.

Mark Gera, MPH’17, Ian Hanny, MPH’17, and Dr. Nitin Mohan, MPH’17, are co-founders of ETIO Public Health Consultants, a consulting firm that works with government, industries, charitable organizations and community groups on public health issues and campaigns.

The trio facilitated a number of practicum placements at ETIO this summer to fill the gap caused by travel restrictions and necessary safety measures.

Dr. Nitin Mohan, also a faculty member at the School, says it was their own experiences as students in the MPH program that motivated the trio to act.

“As we’ve progressed through our careers, we’ve recognized the value of the practicum experience and how meaningful it was in shaping our futures as professionals,” he explained. “At ETIO, we felt we had the ability to design a unique experience that incorporates the educational aspects of the MPH and GHS programs, while providing real-life context to help students bridge the gap between academia and their career paths.”

In total, ETIO hosted 19 student interns throughout June and July - 15 from the GHS program and four from the MPH program.

Students were placed on one of three teams: data analysis, policy analysis or medical research. They were tasked with weekly assignments focused on knowledge translation in public and global health, two organization-wide presentations and one major project to complete during their internship experience. They also assisted with client projects, supporting research analysis, technical reports and communication pieces.

Students were given the freedom to explore their interests, and stayed connected with weekly organization-wide Zoom meetings. The ETIO partners also emphasized mental health and wellness as an important element in the workplace.

“The practicum provides a culminating opportunity where students are given the platform to apply the competencies they’ve built throughout the year in real work environments,” said Dr. Mohan. “The students excelled during the practicum, which I feel is a testament to the strengths of these programs in preparing emerging leaders for the global and public health stage.”

Four of the participating students shared their experience with us, reflecting on their final projects and the lessons they will carry forward.

Cara Boyd, MMASc in Global Health Systems

Internship position: Research Analyst, Data Analysis Team

Final project: Trend report on national health expenditures, analyzing 40 years of data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (including data visualizations)

Other work: Weekly infographics, blog posts, report analyzing structural racism in Ontario and Canada

On exploring her interests: “I’m most proud of my first piece of work published on the ETIO website, a blog on the crisis in Yemen. At ETIO, I really appreciated that we were given the freedom to write about whatever we are passionate about. Being in global health, I am extremely interested in analyzing the health inequities and social injustices that have been illuminated and confounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

What’s next? “I’d like to work with a non-governmental organization focused on addressing health inequities on a global scale. I’m currently working with ETIO as a Health Promoter and plan on continuing that work on a contract basis, even after full-time employment. ETIO has been a great place for me to develop professionally and build meaningful relationships.”

Mofiyinfoluwa (Dami) Lawal, MMASc in Global Health Systems

Internship position: Project Lead, Medical Research Team

Final project: Scalability report for Giants of Africa, an NGO led by Masai Ujiri, President of Basketball Operations for the Toronto Raptors

Other work: Data collection and analysis, environmental scans, media preparation, literature reviews, surveys, content creation (infographics, blog posts)

On her biggest lessons: “I am capable of achieving more than I think I am. I was able to meet tight deadlines, multitask between the final project and other side projects and weekly tasks, and achieved this while producing quality work. I also learned about the level of flexibility needed in the world of global and public health, as many things come up suddenly and are time-sensitive.”

What’s next? “My goal is to become a doctor who navigates the various micro and macro factors that intersect to produce vulnerabilities and health discrepancies. I plan to deliver high quality and sustainable health care, especially to patients in rural areas. I also want to mentor aspiring Black physicians globally and actively work with non-profit organizations. This will entail helping people clinically and in the areas of gender issues (physical violence, asset ownership, employment status), sustainable infrastructure solutions, and child morbidity and mortality.”

Josephine De Leon, MMAsc in Global Health Systems

Internship position: Research Analyst, Data Analysis Team

Final project: COVID-19 projection model for Canada and its provinces

Other work: Epidemic curves for five countries to explore how their health policies impacted the spread of COVID-19, education resources (handbook for the public), infographics, blog posts, social media posts

On working with health data: “Working in the field of public health, there are still large gaps in data. While completing my projects, I noticed that there was not a lot of specific data related to race, for example. It was interesting to learn how data gets transformed into policies, programs or even health promotion campaigns, but also that there is still this need for relevant, specific data. Ultimately, better data will improve our health care system and the programs available to our communities.”

What’s next? “After graduation, I hope to obtain a position working with the United Nations, World Health Organization, or another NGO with a similar goal of improving health. In a few years, I am hoping to get a PhD in the field of Global Health in order to further study the effects of the social determinants of health and disease.”

Abbas Rizvi, MPH

Internship position: Research Analyst, Data Analysis Team

Final project: Trend report on national health expenditures, analyzing 40 years of data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (including data visualization)

Other work: Python scripts using natural language processing (machine learning) to analyze content and detect misinformation on Twitter, supporting industry responses to COVID-19 (including public health solutions and product development)

On teamwork and workplace culture: “My biggest takeaway from the experience was how important it is to find a team that aligns with your values, goals and drive to learn. I’ve learned that workplace culture is just as important to my success as my own skills.”

What’s next? “I’m currently working with ETIO as a Health Promoter, and looking for other contract work, with a special interest in chronic disease and illness prevention. I’m also considering dental school. My goal as a public health professional and future dentist is to focus my efforts on preventative oral health care, and to strengthen the role of allied health professionals in primary care.”