Creating change: Cody Thomas, Class of 2019

By Emily Leighton, MA'13

Three years into his training to be a police officer, Cody Thomas completely changed his career direction. Realizing that many of the daily realities he was facing as an officer-in-training were the result of deeper systemic challenges, he set his sights on long-term solutions.

“I wanted to address the health and social problems in our communities,” he explained.

As a student in the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, he is now focusing his efforts on upstream, preventative strategies to tackle public health challenges.

Thomas is a member of the Mohawk Nation and grew up in Six Nations of the Grand River, near Brantford, Ontario. After leaving policing, he completed an undergraduate degree at Western University in health sciences with a minor in First Nations studies.

With seven years of post-secondary education under his belt, the dedicated student was ready to gain some real-world, professional experience. After graduation, he worked with Six Nations of the Grand River Ontario Works and Six Nations Health Services, assisting individuals and families in need.

The front-line exposure was eye-opening. “Seeing the continued need in our community for help with poverty, housing, addiction and health access, I wanted to play a role in creating change,” he said.

The MPH Program appealed to Thomas because of its case-based approach and emphasis on collaborative work.

He points to the learning-team structure as a highlight of the Program. Learning teams are small groups assigned for the duration of the eight-month coursework section, completing assignments together and engaging in discussion around class readings and case studies.

A self-described introvert, Thomas says this collaborative environment equipped him with new skills in communication and leadership. “There has been a lot of personal growth for me during this year,” he said. “As students, our contributions and voices are valued, which has helped me come out of my shell.”

The small class size of 58 students was also an important factor for Thomas. “We’re a diverse and close-knit group,” he said. “I really value the relationships and friendships I’ve built with classmates and faculty members.”

He advises future MPH students to approach the Program with curiosity and humility. “Soak up all the knowledge you can, come with an open mind and be open to new ideas and perspectives,” he said.

The 31-year-old begins the Program’s 12-week practicum placement in May. He is working at the First Nations Health Authority in Vancouver, which oversees the planning, management, service delivery and funding of health programs in partnership with First Nations communities in British Columbia.

Thomas is guided in his work by the concept of Two-Eyed Seeing. With one eye, we view the world through Indigenous ways of knowing and with the other eye, we view the world through Western, or Eurocentric, ways of knowing.

“It’s important to recognize and respect that Indigenous knowledge is just as valuable and useful as Western knowledge,” Thomas explained.

Sharing this Indigenous lens as a public health professional is a significant part of Thomas’ career plans. He also hopes to one day give back to his Six Nations community, which has supported, encouraged and inspired him on his academic and professional journeys.

“In my community, we face a lot of health disparities,” he said. “I want to be able to give back, to make positive changes and address the social determinants of health.”

Learn more about the MPH Program.