Remember to have a life

From the nursing front lines to policy making

Value: Work-life balance

""We respect and strive to support our students, staff and faculty’s engagement in the world, inside and outside of their work. We are stewards of a system that promotes long-term well-being.  - From the Faculty’s Strategic Plan 2020-25

Here’s how one soon-to-be alumnus is living this value:

As a registered nurse, Sonya Pirani noticed that decisions being made by policy makers did not always reflect the realities she experienced on the front line. These concerning discrepancies led Sonya to pursue the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the University of Waterloo with the goal of making a career in health policy.

She wanted to continue working full-time while she studied, even though she knew it would present challenges in terms of time and mental health. The flexible online format and supportive nature of her professors were essential as she juggled work, family and school life. She also had a supportive home environment.

“I was very lucky to have an amazing partner who supported me in my decision to go back to school and continue working full-time, and who is understanding of my time constraints and priorities when it comes to work and school,” Pirani says.

“I'm the type of person who enjoys being busy and spending my time being productive. I have had to be very organized in how I divided my time to maintain a work-life balance. The most important thing is to remember to try to have a life while working and being in school.”

She says she also had to learn to delegate and ask for help. “I have become really good at saying to people, ‘Hey, I have this, this, and this on my plate right now; can you please help with this?’ I have also learned what my priorities are and that scheduling time for fun is really important for my mental health.”

She finds support elsewhere as well. “My dogs are a big part of my family; they ground me and force me to take breaks and enjoy the outdoors.”

Desire to drive change

Throughout her nursing career, Pirani has worked in a number of areas, including acute neuroscience and neurology, neonatal intensive care and occupational health. Her experiences have shaped her understanding of the health-care system and sparked her desire to drive change through knowledge translation and policy development. Specifically, she aspires to take a leadership role in government to inform policy and practice around maternal and child health.

“Nursing is a very rewarding career,” Pirani says. “As a nurse, I know that I make a difference in the lives of my patients on a daily basis. As a policy maker, I can affect the lives of health-care workers and patients.” Pirani will be graduating with her MPH this fall.

The cohort experience in the MPH program gave Pirani the opportunity to work with professionals from outside her profession, including nutritionists, public health inspectors, dentists, business people and more.

For the MPH professional practicum, she worked for PolicyWise, an organization dedicated to the development of effective social policy for the well-being of children and families. Pirani’s time with PolicyWise was exciting as she gained valuable exposure to the ins-and-outs of policy making.

While undertaking both work and school was challenging, doing this concurrently had some benefits. As an occupational health nurse, Pirani was able to draw on some of her MPH coursework while she and her organization navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

As Pirani prepares for her eventual move away from the front line, she is eager to strengthen the connection between policy and practice to improve health systems and outcomes for patients and professionals.

“Hopefully, I will be able to help in the implementation of new policies that would create efficiency in current processes and help provide more effective health-care delivery,” she says.

One more thing

The challenge of work and school did not prevent Pirani and her partner from adding one more thing to their plates during the pandemic: a wedding.

They had originally been planning to get married in July, but their plans were scuttled when the pandemic hit. However, they decided to go ahead with it, anyway, in a different form. “We're both nurses, so public health was top of mind with all our wedding planning.

“Working full time, being in the capstone course, and planning a last-minute wedding definitely resulted in increased stress and less sleep,” Pirani says. “But we were very lucky that we had the help and support of our families.”