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Salima Mithani: From Pakistan to U of T’s Convocation

June 5/2019

By Bernice Yanful, PhD student in Social and Behavioural Health Sciences at DLSPH

When Salima Mithani talks about her time at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH), she often uses words such as tight-knit, community and supportive.

For Mithani, graduating this week with a Master of Public Health is bittersweet. It marks the end of a long journey that brought her from Pakistan to Canada but also a stepping stone into a career in maternal and child health, an aspiration that began to take shape long before she first entered through the DLSPH doors in 2017.

Mithani laughs recalling the day she received acceptance into the health promotion program at DLSPH. “It was very funny,” she says. Waking up at 4 a.m. in Karachi, she casually checked her phone as usual and could not believe her eyes: “I was scrolling through the message two, three times, like am I reading this right?” she recalls.

Salima Mithani

She woke up her entire family, who shared in her excitement followed by tears of joy. The acceptance marked the culmination of many months of hard work and persistence. It was through practicing nursing in Karachi that Mithani first developed an interest in pursuing graduate studies in health promotion.

“I knew I wanted to work with communities. I wanted to understand the systems [affecting health] more. In bedside nursing, you’re treating patients. No doubt I am helping patients return home, but how can I stop them from coming to the hospitals in the first place before the problems get worse?”

Mithani began googling academic programs that would equip her with the skill set and background she needed to embark on a different career path, with a particular interest in maternal mental health and child health.

She longed to study in Canada to gain exposure to world-leading research, be part of an ethno-culturally diverse learning environment and gain insight into Canada’s role in shaping maternal and child health globally. And thus for Mithani, among Canadian institutions and programs, DLSPH was a natural choice: “Why wouldn’t anyone want to choose it?” she asks. However, the transition to a new course of study in health promotion, on top of adjusting to a new country, was not easy.

“For me transitioning from a clinical background to a social science program was very new and exposed me to the concepts such as social, ecological and land as a determinant of health.” Mithani shares.

At DLSPH, Mithani was determined to make the most of her opportunity by soaking up learnings from each course and pursuing opportunities that suited her interests.  Smiling, she describes how she secured her first practicum placement after listening to a guest lecture in one of her classes: “hearing [the researcher] explain her project, it was like bang, this is exactly what I want to do. I want to do my practicum with her. After class, I literally ran after her and asked, ‘do you have something for me? I really want to work on this project.’” This boldness paid off and in addition to Mithani’s first practicum, resulted in mentorship that continues to this day.

So as Mithani begins this new chapter, she approaches it with the same drive that marked her time at DLSPH, and first brought her from Pakistan to Canada. She is currently facilitating a community program in Toronto for new mothers, focused on mental wellness and social support. In the long term, she sees herself continuing to work in the maternal and child health space, partnering with community organizations in Pakistan and Canada and enabling opportunities for mutual learning and exchange.

Reflecting on the past two years and her decision to come to DLSPH, Mithani shares these words:

“I’m happy with my decision. I feel like oh man I could have done so much more. But of course, you can’t do everything. This whole educational journey has changed how I see the world. It has given me the courage to see things differently, challenge unfair systems and be more socially and morally conscious.”