Andrea Loncaric

Master of Health Evaluation student

Andrea Loncaric

What projects did you work on?     

As part of my practicum placement at the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, I was primarily responsible for helping to evaluate the Canadian Dementia Learning and Resource Network (CDLRN) funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). I started leading the evaluation by engaging CDLRN’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC) members and teams from the Dementia Community Investment (DCI) projects funded by PHAC. I conducted a group interview with the CAC members, many of whom are either people living with dementia or family care partners, to learn about their unique perspectives and experiences with the CDLRN. I gained experience in planning and conducting individual and group interviews with members of the DCI projects, and I also supported the preliminary analysis of all the qualitative data generated by developing and applying codes for thematic analysis. I have also pursued additional growth opportunities within CDLRN by supporting the planning ofnetworkactivities such as the Annual Forum, contributing to website updates, co-developing an anonymous survey for the internal CDLRN team using an appreciative inquiry approach, and contributing ideas for a video resource on how to use Zoom for people living with dementia. 

What was the highlight of your practicum? 

Throughout February 2022, I had led the semi-structured individual and group interviews with 16 DCI project teams and arranged with the project manager for the French translation of the interview guide for two additional project teams. A highlight has been learning more about the impacts of the projects on the broader dementia community while further developing technical skills as an interviewer. Similarly, hearing from the project teams before the Annual Forum in early March, helped increase my uptake of their insights presented at the Forum. My knowledge of the projects’ background allowed me to appreciate their approaches to recruitment, implementation, and evaluation. Another highlight was playing a larger role in stakeholder engagement than I had initially anticipated, which allowed me to involve not only people with lived experience of dementia but also a variety of perspectives including researchers and service providers.

What did you learn that will help you in the future? 

Outside of the DCI interviews that I conducted, I would say that the rest of my learnings have come from supporting the planning and facilitation of the virtual CDLRN events. In particular, learning about Indigenous perspectives and how to engage rural or remote communities where connectivity issues can pose challenges has helped me recognize the need for a more inclusive and bottom-up approach when evaluating work with these communities. This is important to ensuring that the values of the community are respected and honoured. Similarly, with other communities that may have access challenges, it is important to identify champions on the ground that have built those relationships of trust and cooperation to ensure that the evaluation is relevant and utilization-focused.

Were there any challenges? 

I would say that having to step outside of my comfort zone of quantitative evaluation methods and moving towards a greater emphasis on qualitative methods was a welcome challenge; it willallow me to become a more well-rounded evaluator. It was very beneficial to focus on further developing those qualitative skills, especially with the support from the internal CDLRN team. 

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing a program with a practicum component? 

If you are looking to enroll in a course-based master's with a practicum component, such as the MHE program, make sure to be actively engaged in evaluation work. This can be by working or volunteering, attending workshops, networking with professionals in the field, or other opportunities to build your skills and abilities as an evaluator. Similarly, applying to job posting contracts forwarded by the practicum coordinator can help you become involved early on and make it easier to secure a placement near the end of the program. Working while completing the degree solidifies the learnings from the coursework and enriches your graduate school experience. 

Why did you pick this program? 

I joined the MHE program immediately after completing my BSc degree. After realizing that my interests lie in public health rather than scientific research, I was looking for a master's degree that would enable me to have a creative career focused on making a positive change in the community by improving policy and services. The MHE program and the course descriptions felt very aligned with my interests, and  I recognized the practicum component as an excellent opportunity rapidly to gain confidence in my skills as an evaluator. 

Would you recommend this program? 

I would recommend this program because evaluation is an enjoyable field that is relevant and in-demand. The MHE program is flexible, making it easy for students to switch between a full-time and part-time course load when balancing employment or personal life. There is a small cohort of students, so it is easier to connect with classmates, and the professors are also very knowledgeable and experts in the field.