Health Studies - Health Policy: Student Testimonials

Elyana Tahiri

Majors: Health Studies – Health Policy (BA) and Psychology (BSc)

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

Factors that contributed to choosing my program was my personal and career interest, flexibility of course offerings, the advice and testimonials from my long-time peer academic coaches at the AA&CC, and the opportunities that professors of each program could provide to enrich my educational experience in that program (research or being a learning facilitator or helping to critique and improve the curriculum for future students).

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Health policy is quite the opposite of what I thought it would be! In first year, I had the expectation that all of my health studies courses would have a very narrow focus on how health policies are made. UTSC Health Studies actually begins by providing students with a broad and interdisciplinary understanding of many factors outside of biomedicine that contribute to making health policy. This helps the student to be informed and critically think about how and why certain health policies are or are not created and to learn the benefits of what other sectors outside of healthcare can offer to make sustainable policies that address social inequities (for example, access to healthcare). I was surprised that I would take a course in health humanities and health informatics, and learn how very relevant they both are for creating health policies that are not limited to improving a hospital environment, but for making health system-wide changes for our future. Psychology is great for its flexibility with courses! You can choose between a social stream or a more natural science route of the program. The great thing is that you can still access courses from each stream, and mix your interests, for example, by taking courses in social neuroscience. Many psychology courses are also offered in the summer, which helped with the irregularities in course offering of my other major.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

Health Studies: Pay careful attention to what interested you in part one and part two of the foundational health studies courses which all Health students take together. Keep an open mind before committing with the stream you entered in from high school (for example, feeling that you have to stick with the health policy stream because that is what you entered in with from high school). Notice whether you get really excited to talk about disease outbreak and surveillance, public health interventions, statistics, and more anthropological and biological factors that affect health. And notice how passionate you are about discussing social factors such as, access to health care services, addressing poverty and economic insecurity, and having a career in the Ministry (as an example). This tip will help you to choose which stream of health studies to declare on ACORN by the end of first year! If you still love the sound of both of them (which happens quite often), no worries, because you can declare the stream you like more as your major and still pick up courses from the other stream as electives. Regardless of which stream you enter, I would also advise all new Health Studies students that you should consider taking an introductory biology course to prepare for an integrative approach to health studies.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

The double-edged sword of a Health Studies degree is that you have many doors open for you after graduation! But of course, we do need to narrow down. Gaining a diverse range of research and work experience during your undergraduate career will help you to calibrate your focus and interests. This also involves jumping outside of your comfort zone, and for me, this was having my share of research experience. I personally plan to have a career involved in improving the current medical school curriculum to have a more holistic perspective of medicine, not limited to traditional biomedicine. Effective and powerful health policy involves a great deal of physicians being advocates of their patients! By improving the skills and theoretical knowledge palette of incoming and current medical students, targeting them during their education can help them to prepare for having the strategic perspective that is necessary for tackling the new challenges that face our health care system such as mental health and sustainability of the health care system as a whole. You can only get this creative with what you will do with your degree when you accumulate EXPERIENCE! I was inspired during my research experience at UofT's Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation. I was simply seated around other program administrators and developers and had an open mind to their work at the school and thought creatively about how I can do the same kind of job, while still connecting my background in health care, and... voila!

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

Year 1 - It was especially difficult since I am a First Generation Student. Being the first in your family is tough since you don't have as much insider perspective of what university is, what are your courses like, what a major and minor is, how to change them, and what the campus life is like. Thankfully, I had an amazing Get Started Coach, and as soon as I stepped foot on campus, other senior students can identify you right away and are willing to help you through the transition and share their knowledge and information about services that can help you address specific concerns (which led me to AA&CC where I developed a rapport with my coaches until my 3rd year, when they both graduated).
Year 2 - You've got the feel of the course load, the pace of the semesters, and what extracurricular activities you're interested in. Now you are more comfortable reaching out for a work-study position while studying full-time, you understand that professors love to see you in office hours and developing a rapport with them early is important for them to have an accurate and strong understanding of your aptitude so they may write your reference letter for graduate school, you know how to distribute your readings and are clear about individual responsibility in keeping up with the workload.
Year 3 - After experience with many general and introductory courses, you may start to narrow your career interests and graduate education interests. This will also help to inform what courses you should look into taking in your senior years that will reflect your specific interests and help you prepare for your next education plans.
Year 4 - I attended the graduate school fair on campus and got a feel for where I will finally choose to apply! My programs happen to require 3 years of work experience after graduation before I can apply, but many of my friends are applying to medical school or graduate programs right now that accept students directly from undergrad. I am much more content with my courses since they are more specialized and I can get more immersed in my interests. It also might be painful realizing you are not as interested as you once were in your other major, but I am trekking through them as best as I can. I'm also studying more efficiently and smart after many years of experience with how to improve the quality of my course work (thanks to the Writing Centre and feedback from professors and teaching assistants), and I find myself studying and reading more aware and actively (connecting concepts in readings and imagining an exam question).
 

Amna

Majors: Health Studies & Psychology

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

Passion

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
It's very interesting and thought provoking.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

Make sure you do your readings, attend lectures and research themes on your own time.
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
Try to find work!

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
My academic journey has been incredible, and inspiring. I changed my mind on what I wanted to do every semester until I realized that it doesn't have to be so set in stone. First and second year was a tough transition period; you realize what needs to be prioritized. Third and Fourth year becomes much smoother, you know what to expect and what to do; you know your professors which makes class a lot more interesting.
 

Mahnoor Leghari

Majors: Human Biology and Health Studies (Health Policy)
Minor: Psychology

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

My interest in studying biology and also applying biological sciences to practical scenarios helped me with choosing Human Biology and Health Studies as my double majors. I also took some courses in psychology and began enjoying the area of study and decided to pursue a minor in psychology as well.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

The Human Biology program offered a lot of flexibility in the types of courses I could choose, especially in the C and D level courses. It also offers a plethora of interesting courses where you are able to take courses based on your interests and strengths. The Health Studies program has been an eye opening discipline when it comes to health policy and the humanities. The courses offer the unique opportunity to connect theoretical aspects learned in the classroom, and apply them to real life and practical situations. Courses are also taught by amazing faculty members where some are also professionals in the field.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
Take first and second year courses in the programs to see where your interests and strengths are. Manage your time well and try not to fall behind on assigned readings or lectures while making the effort to review for each course every day. Don't be afraid to ask for help when struggling with course concepts or when questions arise. Professors and TA's are always available and are there to help you do well and understand course content.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

I hope to attend graduate school pursuing the Health Policy stream further and also working in Health Policy related opportunities so that I can gain practical experience in the field.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

My academic journey first year was overwhelming but also really interesting because I was able to explore my interests by taking different electives but also experienced times where I was having a hard time with transitioning from high school. Second year, was when I began to explore extracurricular opportunities which helped me organize myself and balance my schedule better. I also learned a lot about what my interests were and what I wanted to pursue as my majors that year. Third year, I had a lot of fun with the courses I was taking as I was genuinely interested in the content that was being taught. Also, I finally was comfortable with the academic and social lifestyle and expectations of an undergraduate student. In my fourth and fifth year it’s all been about working hard and figuring out what exactly I would like to pursue after I graduate. Fourth and fifth year I have also had the chance to gain in-depth knowledge through taking C and D level courses in my chosen disciplines which has been a very valuable experience for me.