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Melissa Fernandes, Master of Public Health, Class of 2017

Melissa Fernandes has spent the past four years supporting the health and well-being of students at McMaster University, calling the Student Wellness Centre her home base. Through her work with the university she has been focusing on the mental and physical health, nutrition and fitness of students, while developing policy and programs on critical issues such as sexual violence and alcohol usage.

A desire to dive deeper into public health led her to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program – her new home for 12 months.

“I always wanted to attain my degree in public health,” Fernandes said.

The fact that most programs take two years to complete has been an obstacle for the master’s candidate.

“I don’t have the opportunity to take two years off and still keep my job at McMaster, so the fact that the MPH program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is one-year, made it very easy to think about how I’d be able to continue working while taking some time to build the skills I really need.”

So far, the program has hit all the right notes for Fernandes. She has been particularly impressed with the commitment of the faculty and staff to the students, the structure and integration of the curriculum from one class to another, the learning teams and the case-based method of teaching and learning.

During the past several months, Fernandes has thought about her previous learning experiences and her own workplace, which has led her to consider how effective the approach is within the MPH program.

“If every program got to know their students in the way that this one does, student well-being would be much improved,” she said.

The program has also provided Fernandes the opportunity to acquire new skills and come to realize the importance of collaboration, evidence-based research and understanding theory well enough to turn it into practice. These are all things she will bring back with her to McMaster when she graduates. And with interests in suicide prevention, health care in northern rural communities and indigenous health, she also feels empowered to look beyond the McMaster campus and reach out to the community.

“I want to find a way to do what’s really important in student affairs and also do all these other things that are important to me,” she shared.

To those people who are thinking about returning to school for a master of public health, Fernandes recommends the program.

“If you are looking for a place to work in a team, to feel value, to build confidence and to be in a learning environment where you apply your learnings to real-life situations, then this is the program for you,” she said.