Graduates begin their careers with a passion for change

Image of featured graduates in connection with the MPH Convocation

Nisha John (left) and Ali McCulloch, both from the Master of Public Health Program, are graduating today, along with other Schulich graduate programs, as part of Autumn Convocation 2022.

By Cam Buchan

Nisha John has brought a global perspective on health issues to the challenges of providing equitable health services across Alberta. Ali McCulloch has turned a summer practicum providing sexuality education to people on the Autism scale into a career path in Nova Scotia.

Different career paths; and different passions. But both found a home in the Master of Public Health program at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and are graduating today, along with all Schulich graduate programs, as part of Autumn Convocation 2022.

While each has taken her own path to this day, both are committed to making a difference through their respective careers.

Nisha John – Optimizing health care

John completed her undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Calgary.

“I was interested in medicine when I started undergrad,” she said. “But, I became more interested in the overall sustainability of the health system. I realized I could have quite an impact through public health.”

Born in India, and with many relatives in the health care field there, plus working on a project based in Uganda for two years, John had a good understanding of what health care looks like around the world. It’s what influenced her to choose the Canadian Red Cross and climate change for her practicum.

“Climate change is predicted to put a lot of pressure on health systems and humanitarian efforts, and it feels like a hopeless place to work because there is nothing you can do about it,” John said. But the topic drew her in, despite the challenges. “My main takeaway was that, yes, climate change is happening but there’s a lot we can do to mitigate the risks to vulnerable populations.”

John’s literature review on the effects of climate change on Canadian Red Cross operations helped the organization develop strategies to prepare. Her main recommendation was to ensure the issue was built in to Red Cross programs at every level of the organization.

Now graduated, John will become a policy analyst for the Government of Alberta, working on optimizing service delivery under the Provider Compensation and Strategic Partnerships Branch. While still interested in the effects of climate change on health care, she brings an equal passion for resolving health-care inequities to this new role.

“It’s important to think about health economics, because it is the tangible way we can approach inequities in health care to optimize decision making for those who need it most. This job will give me the chance to develop strategies that will help improve health-care services for the under-served.”

Ali McCulloch – Advocating for marginalized communities

McCulloch, who did her Bachelor of Medical Sciences at Schulich Medicine, was drawn to Public Health after growing up in the rural community of Mosherville in Nova Scotia, “a four-mile stretch of secondary highway in the middle of nowhere, about an hour outside of Halifax.”

McCulloch’s goal was to go into reproductive or pediatric health, so she was drawn to Schulich’s medical program.

“I spent my summers working at a rural community health centre doing community outreach and health promotion. I really enjoyed it, so I started looking for more options in the medical field.”

The turning point came in a class with Dr. Eric Arts, a professor with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, called Biological and Social Determinants of Infectious Disease, which solidified her desire to work in the Public Health space.

“Everything we talked about in that course made me excited and angry. Looking at how socio-economic factors can have an impact on a population just lit a fire in me,” McCulloch said. “I was drawn by how small initiatives can have such a huge impact at the population level.”

Spurred on by an interest in reproductive health, and inspired by a family member on the Autism spectrum, McCulloch chose a practicum with Autism Nova Scotia in the Healthy Relationships, Sexuality and Autism Program, the only program in Canada that offers sexuality education for people on the Autism spectrum. Now her career path has taken her back to the organization as the program’s coordinator.

“This was a great fit with my passion for advocating for equitable sexuality and sexual health in marginalized communities,” she said.

Now graduation has given McCulloch a chance to share her experiences in the program with her family.

“My family is coming up. My dad has never been to Ontario, and never seen the School, so I hope he enjoys it. He’s not much of a traveller.”