By Christine Elie
20th June 2012
Alexa Mazzarello recently graduated from the Master’s of Public Health program at Queen’s University. Her degree has offered her a vast array of new opportunities in many different fields. She believes that this is one of the principle strengths of the particular graduate program. Alexa is currently the Project Coordinator in the Director’s Office of the ServiceOttawa Department within the City of Ottawa. Though not directly in her field, Alexa claims “I have always said, ‘take the opportunities that come to you,’ I would never turn down this offer just because it’s not in my field.” She firmly believes that one of the benefits to this program is the breadth of transferable skills that it offers to students.
Alexa’s path into the program was not as linear as some. After having graduated from McGill University with a degree in Sociology, she knew that she wanted to pursue work on health and development. Having a keen interest in International Development and health policy she was advised by one of her professors to look into the new program at Queen’s.
When Alexa applied for the program, she was initially refused admittance. The reason for this was that she had not yet acquired relevant experience in the field. Returning to her hometown of Ottawa with a Bachelor’s degree in hand, Alexa began to work as a summer student for the City of Ottawa. With her foot in the door, and much support from her manager, she requested help in pursuing a move to the Public Health Department. She was successfuly granted an 8-month contract with the tobacco team. When she reapplied for the Master’s of Public Health program the following year she was admitted.
Coming from a social science background, Alexa found the program initially quite challenging: “Coming from a social science background and jumping into bio-statistics was really difficult. I wanted to study policy and thought it wasn’t a good fit.” This initial bump did not deter Alexa though: “I stayed and fought through it. By my last semester I absolutely loved it.”
What helped her most was adapting the course to suit her interests. Having worked with many nurses she noticed that their focus was predominantly patient based training. Coming from social science with a broader perspective on healthy policy and social psychology, she felt that her perspective was always “up in the clouds, while they were down on the ground.” To her, this was a good thing. It offered a more balanced discourse in the program. She believes that both voices are needed in the program. Her advice to other students would be to focus on what you desire to take from the degree: “You have to make this program what you want it to be, I have very fond memories of being there.”
It was these transferable skills that Alexa learnt in the program that help her everyday at work. While Alexa’s entrance into the program may seem difficult, she believes that having this bridge year between her undergraduate degree and her graduate work was responsible for her ability to find work immediately after obtaining her MPH. “I would definitely say that having worked a year in between undergrad and doing the MPH was a huge advantage. It basically set me up for a job when I finished.”
Alexa’s advice to students and recent graduates from the program is to be fluid in life goals and career opportunities. She believes that this is central to success. The value of the MPH to Alexa is the array of skills that it offers to its students, and not necessarily the end goal of being active in only Public Health; “don’t pigeonhole yourself in public health because you can use these skills in more than one place.”
In addition to her work at ServiceOttawa, Alexa is also working and pursuing her passion as a photographer. She places much importance on a balanced life-style, one that relishes the importance on both professional development and artistic endeavours. While this can be time consuming, she believes that you don’t have to choose between career advancement and artistic work, “I don’t think you have to chose. If you work hard,you can do both. I would never give up that part of me.”