When Mark Gera, MPH Class of 2017, was six or seven years old, his great grandmother was admitted to a geriatric centre in Toronto. Having incredibly close ties to both his immediate and extended family, he visited her on a regular basis. It was the first public health exposure he had.
This experience stayed with Gera throughout his youth and ultimately played a role in his decision to develop a career in health care.
Influenced by his parents who work in the health care industry as dental technicians, Gera began taking science courses and pursued practical work experiences after he completed his undergraduate degree in geography. His end goal was dentistry. But after applying to dental school, he came across the Master of Public Health Program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
“I knew I would enjoy dental school, but what deterred me was the idea of affecting only one person at a time,” he explained. “I realized the quality of care that you could provide through a career in public health, which attracted me to pursue the Program.”
Gera looked at a few other public health programs offered in Canada, but Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s Program stood out to him because of its smaller class sizes.
“I have always preferred smaller, intimate programs that are more student-focused. You are not just a number because they actually care about you and your education, and you have the ability to get to know the professors really well,” he said.
He was also drawn to the Program’s case-based learning method because students are able to learn through real-world examples — something he didn’t always have throughout his undergraduate education.
“In the didactic lecture style, I had a difficult time applying the information I was learning,” he said. “But by using the case-based method, you are able to take examples from real life and bring them into the classroom. There are so many diverse backgrounds in our cohort, so most of my learning happens through classroom and learning team discussions.”
When thinking about his future career in public health, Gera explained he could choose one of two directions. He could focus on his geography background by pursuing environmental health work such as climate change or water safety, or he could dive into his interest in dentistry and focus more on policy change to make dentistry more accessible. He believes that the direction he takes in his 12-week practicum will help to influence this decision.
For students like Gera who are interested in pursuing a career in public health but may not have an education background that easily lends itself to the field, he has one piece of advice: get the experience.
“It’s not always about your marks and the courses you’ve taken, it’s also about what you can bring to the table,” he said. “Load up your resume, figure out what makes you unique and show people that you have a genuine interest and passion.”