Using experiential education as the compass

Hoang Tang found her path during her master’s public health practicum

People interested in health-care careers are often faced with choice overload.

In a field that is so vast, with so many different pathways ranging from hospital work to dissecting health data, how does one choose the right direction?

For Hoang Tang (MPH ’20), experiential education was her compass.

Tang is now a practice consultant at Indigenous Services Canada, where she works on the policies and processes to guide the government in understanding how best to prevent the spread of communicable diseases in First Nations communities.

Hoang TangThe two-year Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at Waterloo includes a practicum in the final semester. Tang's practicum position was as a Junior Policy Analyst at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Then the COVID-19 pandemic began, which opened up a whole new set of opportunities. 

“With the emergence of COVID-19, I was deployed to support the health portfolio operations centre at the Public Health Agency of Canada, where I worked as a public health and travel officer, supporting the quarantine sites,” she says about her experience.

The practicum with PHAC led to her current job with Indigenous Services Canada. The file she is working with now involves helping to form policies for Indigenous communities, where there are numerous complex and intersecting issues, such as the environment, long distances to hospitals and health-care providers and the way people travel in and out of those communities.

 “If we're thinking about case and contact management, for example, we have this broad guidance about isolation times and other policies or processes, but then, how do we adapt this, so that it makes sense at a community level?” Tang says.

“There are so many complex issues that come along, from systemic trauma to food and water and the environment, which are all big and important public health issues, so the work has definitely been very rewarding.”

Tang initially got her bachelor of science at the University of Ottawa and then went into Laurentian University’s nursing program because she felt that nursing would fit well with her interest in health and her desire to help people.

Most people with nursing degrees end up working in hospitals, nursing homes or clinics, but the nursing program also included an experiential learning placement that led her into a role in Ottawa as a public health nurse, which is when she decided to pursue a master’s degree.

She was especially drawn to the MPH program at Waterloo because of the experiential learning focus. “That was really important to me based on my past experiences with placements,” she says.

Tang says experiences gained during her practicum, along with the support of her professors and placement supervisors, gave her the skills she needed to get into the fascinating area of public health policy.

“I was always interested in working at a federal level, and I was able to gain the knowledge and skills through my practicum. The hard skills, such as writing and researching, were important but even more important were the softer skills. How do you work as a team? How do you manage your time and also maintain good relationships with your team, your clients, stakeholders? Those skills are just as important.”

Her master’s and the practicum provided her with a strong foundation for what she is doing now. “In public health, there are so many different layers, so many factors in a complex health issue that the critical thinking skills I gained help me every day when I am to provide advice and make recommendations.”

Although grades are important, “the workplace is where you will grow the most personally,” she says. “You create relationships and connections with people you have something in common with, which, for me, is a passion for public health.”