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Alumni Member

Andrew Lam

What additional degrees or training do you have?

BMSc (Physiology)

How did you become interested in your field?

While on the verge of graduating from my undergraduate degree in physiology, I realized I wanted to be immersed in a field with more macroscopic application instead of continuing the microscopic cellular research I was doing. I learned about epidemiology through an elective course I took in my senior year of university and understood the field to be statistically driven and consequently logical. A strong command of epidemiology meant a rigorous skill set that could be employed in a myriad of research contexts and applied settings. I understood the utility of this skill set compared to alternative fields I was considering through consultations with faculty, scientists and clinicians. The philosophy of building an epidemiologic “tool kit” resonated most with my learning style and the application of such skills to benefiting others aligned with my career goals.

 Tell us about any interesting projects you are working on.

The Healthy Babies Healthy Children (HBHC) program is a free home-visiting program to help children get a healthy start in life. The HBHC screening tool is completed by healthcare providers for patients and families in the province during the prenatal, postnatal and early childhood periods. This screening tool is includes a basic demographic information section and 36 item questionnaire. Local public health units rely on the screening tool to identify whether there are any risks that could affect a child’s healthy development and for referral to in-depth assessments which may lead to enrolment of a family into the home-visiting program.

The capacity of each local public health unit to offer in-depth assessments and free home-visiting programs to every high risk family varies. For this reason, at the health unit I work at, we strive to identify an efficient way of triaging families to ensure those who truly require the home-visiting program are the ones offered it. I am analyzing and assessing data for the local health unit to address this problem. This project is very interesting because results will inform operational decisions and may lead to changes affecting families in our community.

What do you enjoy most about your current career position?

Application of my training to meaningful work makes my position as a public health epidemiologist satisfying. I enjoy working with interdisciplinary teams in public health and helping staff understand data. Above all, seeing the work I produce being used to inform staff and programs is motivating and very exciting.

In what ways has your experience at the School had an impact on your career and who you are today?

The DLSPH offered unbounded opportunities to explore interests, both personally and professionally. On a personal level, having the School housed on the main campus of the University of Toronto meant convenient access to sports, student groups, and extracurricular activities. The low barrier to engaging in new activities or to continue pursuing existing interests made it simple to maintain a healthy balance between school and personal life – a balance that has continued with me beyond school.

In a professional sense, the DLSPH offered every opportunity I thought about and others I had not even considered. Faculty were highly approachable and receptive to meeting with students to discuss research ideas, career goals and occasionally even personal goals. I met faculty who truly cared for the students’ educational experience and this led to a culture of community, which is so important in the public health field where most names are familiar ones. DLSPH also engrained in me the necessity of building a good “tool kit” and to continue expanding my skills after graduating; this is an important lesson I believe employers knew I had understood and made me an attractive candidate.

 How did your experiences at the School help you to overcome obstacles you’ve faced as a public health professional?

 The DLSPH enabled me to think critically and solve problems while considering the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. I gained tremendous confidence in my ability to learn how to solve a novel problem, which made my transition from being in school to public health professional easier. Through the Public Health Alumni Association, DLSPH Mentorship Program, and practicum opportunities, I encountered a network of public health professionals who shared similar intent as I did and could support each other in our professional roles.

What advice would you give to younger alumni or current students who aspire to follow a similar career path?

While studying at DLSPH, explore your interests. Challenge yourself with courses, research topics, and practicum experiences that may not immediately appeal you. As a student you have great fortuity by being in a position where mistakes have minimal repercussions. Spend this time figuring out how you learn, what you want to do and who you want to be.

To the eventual alumni, do ask for opportunities. Get involved with different projects that will help you develop skills that are demanded for the position you want. Aim to perpetually learn and keep abreast with the news because local and global politics and events are interconnected with the public health field.

What would you say to a prospective student who is considering the School?

The ability to find meaningful employment is an important factor students should consider when selecting which graduate degree and program to pursue. The DLSPH is a terrific school that offers unique specializations for a public health program. The flexibility of the curriculum provides sufficient time to explore research and applied work while graduating with more employment experience than some other schools. The DLSPH is a remarkable place to learn, for individuals at any stage in their careers.