A lifelong pursuit in public health

The field of public health is something Ryan McConnell has been passionate about since his childhood, even if he didn’t realize it until later in life.

His interest began inadvertently at a young age when his grandmother and grandfather were both diagnosed with cancer in the same calendar year.

“I vividly recall the frustration and helplessness that I felt when both of my grandparents passed away, and the desire that burned within me to prevent others from experiencing the pain that my family endured,” McConnell said. “This inherent drive to improve health outcomes remained constant during my adolescent years and only grew stronger as I reached early adulthood, ultimately leading me to pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.”

After earning a Bachelor of Physical and Health Education (Honours) at Queen’s University, McConnell was eager to establish familiarity with all aspects of public health, with a specific interest in Indigenous health. As a proud Mohawk growing up on a rural reserve in Tyendinaga, his dream is to practice medicine as a family physician in his community, giving back to those who have supported him.

“I am particularly interested in exploring social determinants of health in rural, remote, and underserviced communities,” he explained. “As a lifelong resident of a rural community, I hope to identify barriers in access to health care for vulnerable populations and eradicate existing health inequities, drawing upon the findings of my research to redefine the current standard of public health.”

McConnell chose to attend the MPH Program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry because he was intrigued by the prospect of team-based learning, and because of the emphasis the Program places on cultural diversity.

“As an Indigenous applicant, I felt that I could offer a unique perspective in both team and classroom discussions, and was interested in learning from those with experience living and working internationally,” he explained.

At only 22 years old, McConnell already brings a wealth of experience to the classroom. Throughout his undergraduate education, he worked as an Administrative Assistant with the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program at Queen’s University, participated in a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Peru, worked as an Indigenous Undergraduate Research Assistant at McMaster University, and volunteered as a Peer Educator in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Through these experiences, he learned to exhibit resilience in the face of adversity and address any barriers he encountered without hesitation or fear of failure.

“The capacity to overcome challenges and perform under pressure is a prerequisite for many occupations in the field of public health, and I firmly believe that these professional experience have allowed me to develop these important skills,” McConnell said.

While the young professional has enjoyed the case-based learning that the MPH Program has to offer, he is excited to further his professional experience in a health-related context during his practicum placement. While he isn’t certain where he would like to complete the placement, he is looking forward to applying the skills and abilities he is learning from the Program in a real-world setting.