Stepping stones to co-op success

A photo of Sanooba standing in front of the Sun Life Financial building.Sanooba Uddin, a fourth-year Health Studies student, describes her current co-op position at Sun Life Financial as well as her experiences finding a co-op placement during difficult times.

As a student nearing graduation, going into my 4B term of health studies in spring 2022, there are many emotions that I am experiencing. But, the one thing that has been a highlight of these four years is co-op. Currently working as a disability case associate at Sun Life Financial, some of my job duties include reading up on disability claims and appeals, data management associated with those appeals and identifying associated errors. I have also had the opportunity to work in collaboration with the litigation department and conduct background checks on potential appeals before finalizing decisions.

What I find most interesting about this work term is that I get to see how the insurance side of healthcare is related to different problems, the brainstorming that goes behind making final decisions and continuously ensuring that quality and integrity are maintained, alongside good customer service. In addition, I am also a part of the Student Influence Committee at Sunlife and this keeps me engaged in the company culture, networking events, etc.

Between my work experience and school education, having a background in understanding problems and the extent of problems that can be caused, along with medical terminology, has helped me understand the case files in an enhanced manner.

Personally, I have established a stronger work-from-home routine as compared to my previous remote position, and coordinating with a larger team has been easier than before. I also find the company culture to be diverse and extremely welcoming and I have touched base with co-workers from other departments of the organization as well.

I have been developing a greater understanding of tasks by working closely with my manager and I have gradually been assigned greater responsibilities. This has helped keep a flow without becoming overwhelming. In the next few months, I aim to improve my total productivity and practice certain hands-on tasks to achieve this. Over the years, I find that my attention span and ability to understand instructions have improved.

I strongly believe that these successes have been due to the previous work terms that have given me a platform to learn, improvise and grow. One thing I must mention, especially to all first-year students looking for a co-op, is that my first term was an unpaid position. A number of people told me that I was capable of securing a paid position and that I should not undermine myself. But, I must tell you, working at Diabetes Canada as my first co-op was the best decision I have ever made.

In every interview that I have done thereafter, including the one at Sun Life, the skills that I learned at Diabetes Canada has always been a positive point and helped me secure my successive jobs.

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Never be afraid to take on any experience that you are being offered, since you never know what may end up being the stepping stone to success.

In addition, every workplace can include a variety of challenges and to me, this is where the real learning happens. As a co-op student, I think common challenges that we all face are not having adequate knowledge or understanding of a company’s working style, detailed expectations from your supervisor and the inability to take final decisions in the fear that it may be wrong.

During the search for my last co-op, I secured a position with the Region of Waterloo. I was more than ecstatic and had it all set early in the semester. However, I was in India and the second wave of the pandemic hit. I had a week left to board my flight to Canada when everyone in my family contracted COVID-19 and I lost my grandmother a day before my flight.

Amidst this chaos, travel restrictions took place and I had to cancel my job which created utter chaos. Most remote jobs needed me to be present physically in Canada and that was not an option anymore.

Dwindling between emotional loss, fear and stigma around COVID-19, lack of resources, and several other issues, I did not know what was to come next. A month later, some restrictions were relaxed and I came to Dubai, where I am a resident. I was finally able to secure a co-op at Prime Hospital Dubai for that semester.

I always thought about the day I wrote to the Region of Waterloo about having to cancel my offer of employment and was unsure if I even made the right decision. Little did I know that the two months of internship that I would do at Prime Hospital would be a game-changer.

Here I got to witness the working of a multi-specialty hospital, develop excellent networking opportunities, understand a different local culture in a workplace, learn about the rules and regulations that govern a hospital and get to shadow various hospital departments such as physiotherapy and health insurance which eventually led to my current role at Sun Life.

It is now that I realize how each work term contributed to my professional growth and that sometimes it is okay to not follow a conventional path for all paths lead to learning and ultimately a stronger, more experienced ‘you’.