For Jeffrey Chong, returning to school from the professional world meant stepping out of his comfort zone, but it’s a risk he’s glad he took.
Chong attributes much of his personal and professional growth to the experiences he’s had in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Having completed the one-year program at the end of August, he is now working at the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Officially receiving his degree this week, Chong reflects on his experiences in this Convocation Q&A.
What inspired you to pursue an MPH degree at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry? Was there a special moment or did you always know you wanted to work in public health?
Initially, my interest was sparked because my mom went to Western for her MBA. Following in her footsteps made her happy, so it made me happy too.
However, many aspects of the MPH program called to me personally as well. After a two-year break from school, I wanted to further my education but in a more time-efficient manner. With this being a one-year program, it was ideal. It was important to me to choose a program that would enhance my skills and knowledge and get me back into the workforce as soon as possible.
The MPH program also allowed for a large amount of flexibility and used a case-based teaching method, which was a selling factor for me. This method allowed my learning to stay interesting and exciting as my work was applicable and relevant to what I wanted to pursue in professional settings.
What is your biggest takeaway from your experience?
The MPH program pushed me out of my comfort zone. Not knowing anyone coming into the program, I was challenged to work on skills that go beyond academic growth.
My supervisors motivated me to use and improve my networking skills and take advantage of the social opportunities the program provided. I am thankful as these networking skills have directly translated into my professional life.
What was your favourite part of the summer practicum experience?
I work with vaccines, so seeing high-level professionals discuss the creation and implementation of vaccine protocols and evaluate the best methods to execute vaccine rollouts for all of Canada has been really interesting.
And getting exposure to people who have a lot more knowledge than me is fascinating.
Beyond your professional life, do you have personal interests or hobbies that you’re passionate about?
Travelling is a passion of mine. I love to explore new places and would say one of my goals is to travel as much as possible. Another benefit of my job is the fact that it is remote, this has allowed me to advance my career while also indulging in my love of travelling.
Japan has been my favourite place to visit so far. Seeing the culture and the people was amazing. One of the highlights of that trip was a Mario-themed go-carting experience!
What advice do you have for students considering a career in public health, especially those who are just starting their journey?
Make the most of your experience. You are never going to learn everything and absorb all the information you’re given. It is so valuable to leverage yourself and shine in different areas that interest you.
Go out with friends and get involved in extracurriculars – balance is essential, and the experience goes beyond going to class.
And finally, try not to focus on the letters at the end of your degree, the journey is far more important.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment so far?
Being able to get a job and having financial security so soon after graduating from school has always been the goal, so achieving it is a huge accomplishment.
Coming back to school meant going out of my comfort zone. It was something I didn’t think I would do, so the fact I took the risk and that it led to better things for the future feels incredibly rewarding.
What are your long-term career goals in public health?
I would love to do something in the physical health realm, particularly working with youth. My journey working with kids started when I worked as a camp counsellor. Witnessing their growth and development in that capacity definitely played a part in my passion for this line of work.
Additionally, I really want to work in public health in a different country. Other governments and health departments have completely different health systems, so to work internationally would be eye opening, provide new and valuable perspectives and broaden the scope of my experience.