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Alumni Member

Brian Schwartz

When did you graduate from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health?


What additional degrees or training do you have?

Doctor of Medicine (1976), University of Toronto

How did you become interested in your field?

That’s a long story.  After first practicing family/emergency medicine and then full-time emergency medicine for over 20 years, I became involved with both public health and emergency preparedness in my role as the Sunnybrook base hospital medical director for Toronto Emergency Medical Services. I worked with Sheela Basrur, Bonnie Henry and others at Toronto Public Health on immunization programs for hard to reach populations and health care for mass gatherings such as World Youth Day in 2002.  I also worked with Allison Stuart and James Young in the provincial government on health sector emergency preparedness.  Then when the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak hit Ontario these roles coalesced and I played a role in the provincial response.  From then on my public health activities, including my formal public health education at the DLSPH, gradually evolved to my current role.

What do you enjoy most about your current career position?

I most enjoy learning from my team, my colleagues at Public Health Ontario (PHO) and our stakeholders.  I feel very privileged to be part of a dynamic and diverse knowledge organization, and since I am relatively new to public health I am able to seek out new knowledge in communicable diseases, environmental and occupational health, laboratory sciences and health promotion.  In my capacity as the PHO emergency preparedness and response lead I get to work with every part of our organization, and advise local public health units and health care organizations on how to connect with their partners in this evolving public health discipline.

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

My exposure to the course material, faculty and students gave me not only a sense of the scope of the public health body of knowledge, but also contact with public health academic leaders and practitioners of the future.  This has helped me understand the character and culture of our clients at PHO and how to work effectively with them in preparing for and responding to outbreaks and other incidents.

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

With my background in clinical medicine my biggest obstacle was feeling I was an “outsider” to the public health community. However since I dealt with real issues in my day job I was able to configure my course selections, research projects and assignments according to relevant aspects of my work.  For example in my policy courses I looked at policy options on antiviral medication prophylaxis during an influenza pandemic, as well as at federal/provincial/territorial jurisdictional issues in setting up a national communicable disease surveillance system.  My practicum at Peel Public Health made me appreciate and understand the strengths and challenges of public health practice at the local level to help ensure that our knowledge products in public health emergency preparedness are developed through a relevant public health lens.

Describe any significant relationships with fellow students or faculty. How did these relationships help you?

I do have relationships with some of my classmates, especially those with whom I currently work, even though some of them are the same age as my children.  In fact, the greatest bond I have is with my daughter Naomi (now with Cancer Care Ontario) who graduated with me in 2012!  Although we did not share any classes it was a very special moment for me to receive my convocation with her.

I was lucky enough to have access to outstanding faculty.  Bart Harvey, my course supervisor and Ian Johnson, with whom I still work, greatly influenced me in my studies. Bart guided and supported me throughout my four year part-time odyssey, and Ian was a superb teacher and role model public health physician. Rob Schwartz (no relation) and Sue Bondy’s courses on health policy and systematic reviews respectively continue to inform my daily work and supervision of students in my role at PHO.

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

I’m not sure too many people would follow my career path, returning to school more than 30 years after graduation.  Not surprisingly my advice is to never be afraid to change direction, take on new challenges or follow a dream.  Continue to learn, whether it is in public health or another domain, and integrate your studies with your accumulated experience in real life. (see final question)

Do you have a favourite or funny story about your time here?

Upon enrollment in 2008 I did not fit the mold of a typical student – in fact, the University gave me back my original U of T student number so I was the only student with a student number beginning with “70”.  In many of my classes my fellow students assumed I was faculty or a visiting professor and they were quite shocked when we ended up in a tutorial or project group together!

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

Higher education is essential, but so is life experience.  Take every opportunity, no matter how menial or challenging, to work, volunteer or learn; and make it a lifelong venture. I see the DLSPH as fostering and encouraging more and more experiences in global, inner city and aboriginal health so it is an ideal environment for the integration of learning and life experience.