An Ongoing Journey

Graduating with her Master of Public Health was just the start of Zinnia Batliwalla’s journey of learning about public health

By Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

From Charlie Sheen’s HIV disclosure to Brooke Shields advocacy for postpartum depression awareness, celebrities influence our everyday public health decisions.

“There are public health lessons to be learned everywhere – even pop culture.” —Zinnia Batliwalla, MPH’15

“There are public health lessons to be learned everywhere – even pop culture,” said Zinnia Batliwalla, MPH’15.

During her first week as a public health student she wrote a journal entry about the impact of the environment and health. Citing several proven occurrences in which actors were able to activate a change in public behaviour related to health simply by sharing their own personal circumstances, she was able to demonstrate to even the most skeptical in her class that there are public health lessons to be learned everywhere.

It was with this journal entry that Batliwalla began her journey of exploration and learning about public health as part of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s professional Master of Public Health (MPH) program. She did so armed with a degree in life sciences and peace studies.

As a macro thinker, she was attracted to the case-based learning approach in the program, and how she could examine the intersectionality of culture, literature, politics and public health.

“I was overwhelmed and confused by the options of what to do after I graduated,” Batliwalla said. “I had heard so much about case-based learning from my brother who was completing Western’s joint Engineering/HBA program. He had talked about how it offered pragmatic and  practical approaches to learning and homes in on critical-thinking skills, and I knew that was the right learning environment for me.”

During the 12-month program, Batliwalla says she was encouraged to consider the principles of public health; use literature to better explore the social determinants of health, including upstream factors; examine the different aspects of the health care system; and grow to understand how they positively and negatively impact health.

The daily classroom discussions and small group work during the program were initially challenging for Batliwalla, who admits to having little experience interacting with so many people of different ages and life experiences.

Now as the National Manager for Government Relations and Advocacy for the March of Dimes Canada, she is tapping into all the strategies she learned during those valuable sessions.

She also finds herself continually using the skills she gained working as an intern at the Department of Information with the United Nations (UN) Impact Group. During the program’s 12-week practicum, Batliwalla wrote articles raising awareness about UN initiatives, researched international public health research, and developed and executed a social media strategy for the UN Academic Impact program.

“It was eye-opening to see all the different facets and the amount of work that goes into the decision making related to policy,” Batliwalla said.

Regardless of her role, Batliwalla continues to see the critical importance of medical and public health research influencing policy. Working with the March of Dimes on their national platform, she is using research to ensure the policies they are advocating are truly benefiting the people for whom they are intended to support.

Batliwalla is also taking every opportunity to share her strong commitment to public health. Until recently, she was the Co-Chair of the New Professional Network for the Ontario Public Health Association. The group has organized events with a goal of facilitating and engaging young professionals in public health.

“We want to really explore the definition of public health by pushing the  boundaries, and determining how we can have a positive impact,” she said.

Batliwalla continues to converse with her classmates about public  health, care systems and the upstream impact of policies on institutions and health. While the discussions aren’t happening daily, she finds the supportive dialogues just as inspiring and helpful as she continues her ongoing journey of exploration of public health.

A proud Western alumna, Batliwalla believes the MPH program was the best possible direction she could have taken after her undergraduate studies.

“Western gave me the skills and confidence to launch my career,” she said. “Faculty and staff are always there for their students, and they encourage you to keep learning and get involved with the community after you graduate.”