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.

Aretina Chan

Major: Health Studies (Health Policy)

Minors: Health Humanities & Art History

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
My decision to major in health studies was stemmed from being intrigued with the idea of what it actually means to be healthy. So many of us think being healthy means to eat good foods, go to the gym every day or just be disease free, but it's much more complicated than that, and it's that that really drew me to this program. I didn't actually decide to minor in Health Humanities until my third year, and that decision was made after I took a few classes with Dr. Andrea Charise, and what I really found fascinating was the way the humanities and arts challenged the conventional view of health, illness, and death. I also decided to minor in art history in my third year, and that was out of passion. During my high school years, I really enjoyed art classes and especially the art history portion that were taught in those classes, but I wasn't brave enough to do something about that passion until my third year.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
Health studies classes are fascinating especially if you're into viewing health as a broader issue affected by a multitude of external factors. The classes themselves don't just focus on one concept, for example, you may take a class in nutrition in one semester but another class in anthropology in the next; both of which are part of the program optional/required classes, and it's the wide range of classes from all fields that give you a better sense of what health studies can really incorporate. Health studies isn't a program that focuses on hammering into your brain theories or formulas, but requires you to think outside the box to connect broader ideas of health together. The latter goes with Health Humanities. I would like to think of art history as a program about culture and the way the arts are influenced or influence it throughout history. Art history requires you to memorize dates, art works and artists, but that's expected; in addition to that, the classes will help you improve your writing abilities because you'll have to write a lot of analytical and research essays.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
Go into health studies if you have an interest in learning how factors outside of biomedicine influence one's well-being, an interest in learning about how health care systems work around the world work, and an interest in exploring the current issues in the Canadian health care system, such as, long hospital wait times or disparities within Indigenous communities. Go into Health Humanities if you have an interest in how individuals experience health, illness and death, an interest in learning about the way science and the arts can come together practically in the study of health (i.e. art therapy), in addition, you have to be open minded. Go into art history if you have an interest for analyzing art using theories and broader cultural ideas of that time, and an appreciation for art.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
 
Plans include doing further studies in Medical Humanities. Jobs include something in health promotion, museum/exhibitionist officer, art therapy. I would also love to be part of Indigenous health related research.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
My first year was really chill, I had a fun time making friends and being introduced to health studies. My second year was stressful because I had a really hard time figuring out what programs I wanted major and minor in, and I finally decided after 6-12 months of doing research and taking classes.

Saania Rahim

Major: Health Policy Co-op and English

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
I took a variety of courses from different disciplines in my first year. I especially enjoyed HLTA02 with Dr. Sicchia, which was about how the definition and understanding of health has changed throughout history. I was also fascinated by how encompassing health was - it was affected by so many structures and institutions such as the government, hospitals, and media outlets. I became interested in how health is understood and how better health can be achieved in a world that changes so quickly! I applied for the health policy co-op program because I wanted practical experience in order to learn about my options for career development. For my work-term, I worked as a Research Assistant at St. Michael's Hospital and through this experience, I learned that I am passionate about qualitative research and voicing personalized experiences. After this experience, I was able to make more informed choices about the courses that I wanted to take and the careers that I was interested in. I became interested in how the social determinants of health affected a person's day-to-day life and how experiences of illness and ill-health are expressed - especially through different mediums such as poetry, paintings, conversations, and other artistic means. I decided to major in English after taking ENGB04. This course was about poetry and I learned about theoretical frameworks that informed certain pieces of literature. It was enlightening to read and understand a poem based on its historical and cultural context, instead of just taking it for face value. I took a few more English courses, and I liked that all of them involved analyzing texts and breaking down ideas to form a greater argument. English relates to health policy quite a bit because there are clear overlaps in terms of theoretical framing such as postcolonial theory or feminist theory. Also, with the introduction of the health humanities minor, there are a lot of creative avenues for expressing ideas in both Health Policy and English.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
There's a lot of reading and writing in both programs! For Health Policy, the readings are mostly based on academic articles, although this is changing in the health humanities field. In health humanities, there is a focus on the way people understand and talk about their experiences of health and illness - and this results in comic books, paintings, plays, and other ways of creative expression. Most health policy courses are about the social determinants of health and involve assignments such as literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, and policy briefs. Writing in health policy is about concision and clarity. In English, writing is more centred around academia and critical thinking about social determinants of health. A lot of the courses in the Health Policy program helped me to become a clear and concise writer. There's also a lot of reading - from academic papers to comics. There's a huge variety in the types of writing, but there are a few areas of commonality - such as using a theoretical framework to understand a problem/situation. It is important to understand different perspectives in writing, and using theoretical frameworks as a pair of glasses to see a new perspective is enlightening.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
1) I would recommend speaking to your professors and going to see them in office hours! Even if you are not having trouble with the concepts/work, it is nice to connect with them because they offer a lot of insight. It also helps to speak to them if you are looking for direction in terms of your career.
 
2) Do your readings! Even if you briefly skim them before class, it is a completely different experience when you go to class and know what is being discussed. It also enables you to partake in discussions.
 
3) Form a study group! I find that I study a lot better in groups, especially when I can relay my ideas. It also helps to study with a group of people so that you can review material and catch up in case you fall behind or miss class. Speak to the students next to you, and sit at the front of the class so you do not get easily distracted by what others are doing in class.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
 
I am planning on pursuing graduate school after I finish my degree. I like thinking about the intersections between race, gender, and socio-economic status, and I would like to pursue a career that involves making sure that people are able to exercise their rights (regardless of their status), and live healthy lives.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
 In first year, I was very confused. I changed my program from economics to environmental science to finally settling on English and Health Studies. During my first year, I coincidentally fulfilled all of my breadth requirements because of the variety of courses I took. I found it difficult to manage 5 courses as soon as I started university, and dropping to 4 courses made my schedule a lot more manageable. By the end of first year, I learned that I needed to use different study habits for each course and speaking to older students, as well as attending workshops by the Academic Advising and Career Centre, definitely helped me figure out my study habits. Second year was a lot smoother. I was taking courses that I enjoyed in the health policy program, and I joined clubs that related to my program such as the Anthropology and Health Studies Association. I also found it a lot easier to speak to professors because I was genuinely interested in what I was learning. I also tried volunteering for different organizations such as the Women & Transgender Centre, and this helped me learn about what exactly inclusiveness and acceptance looks like in policy and practice. I'm in my third year now, and I'm finding that the courses are specific and narrow-focused to particular fields such as health informatics, or rehabilitation versus being broad such as social determinants of health. The classes are also a lot more discussion-based, and so it pays off to do the readings beforehand. In terms of content, one of my courses looks beyond the social determinants of health and focuses on how broader structures, such as imperialism and capitalism, affects day-to-day lives, and what it means for people to be sick and be treated under such hierarchical systems. Through these courses, I am learning about the limitations of how I understand the social determinants of health, and that policies that affect health are sometimes seemingly unrelated to health. I have a better understanding about the interconnectedness of the world.