Dean's Corner

January to March 2015

Our student carrels are located strategically in the centre of our School’s territory on the third floor of ECHA. As I walk past them every day to and from the photocopier, I can gauge the season, so to speak, by the amount of activities that go on.

As the first quarter of 2015 comes to a close, students are beavering away on their papers and assignments, working singly or in groups. The occasional laughter emanating from that quarter indicates that things cannot be all that bad. I want to wish them all success in their exams. Soon they will scatter to their practicum sites, research projects, Spring Convocation or new jobs.

Our School continues to do well, and this quarterly report is again full of triumphs, great and small, by our faculty, staff and students.

Faculty renewal in full swing

We recruited Stephanie Montesanti, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary, to the assistant professor position in health policy and management. Stephanie received her MA in medical anthropology from the University of Toronto, and the PhD from the Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis at McMaster University. She brings with her extensive health policy experience and engaged scholarship in Canada and overseas.

The search process for an assistant professor in global health is underway, and we shall be interviewing candidates in May. The Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in social epidemiology has also been launched. All these new recruitments will strengthen our faculty teaching and research.

We have also appointed an international coordinator, in collaboration with University of Alberta International and the Faculties of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Rehabilitation Medicine. Sepideh (Seppy) Masoodi received her PhD in education from Calgary, and she has broad experience in international education, especially in the Middle East.

Student funding receives major boost

In an effort to attract highly qualified students from around the world, the School has allocated $200,000 per year to establish 12 scholarships, 11 of which are for incoming new students and one for continuing students. These awards, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 each, are open to both Canadian and international students in all our MPH, MSc and PhD programs.

We thank Gian Jhangri and the Awards Committee for deliberating on the terms and criteria. These were approved by Faculty Council. The committee’s work has just begun, as they now have the difficult task of evaluating the nominations from various program directors. We believe this is just a small beginning.

Generous financial support for students is absolutely necessary if we hope to achieve our vision of being Canada’s leading school of public health.

Researchers receiving major grants

A team led by Zubia Mumtaz and Duncan Saunders and their colleagues in Malawi was awarded $1 million from the Global Health Research Initiative funded jointly by CIHR, the International Development Research Centre, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. The full story can be found in this article.

The project, called Improving the standards based management–recognition initiative to provide high quality, equitable maternal health services in Malawi, is one of the 20 implementation research teams that are successful in the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa program.

The final three years’ funding for my Canadian Institutes of Health Research five-year team grant ($2.5 million), entitled Circumpolar Health System Innovation Team under the Community-Based Primary Health Care program, has now been transferred to the School of Public Health from the University of Toronto, where the project was initiated. Arto Ohinmaa is a co-principal applicant of the team.

This is Public Health kicks off with public lecture

On March 18, Nicholas Ashbolt gave the first of a series of public lectures under the banner This Is Public Health (TIPH). We admit that we are borrowing the name from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), of which we are a card-carrying member. ASPPH generously allows, indeed encourages, us to use the tag line, as we both want the public to be better informed about public health.

Nick Ashbolt’s lecture was titled The Water Revolution – Reimagining our Water System. It drew over 100 people, including several municipal officials from near Edmonton who were excited by the new ideas on water conservation. This is what engaged scholarship is all about. In case you missed the event, the lecture will be repeated at a University of Alberta alumni event in Calgary on May 12. I invite you to view the Flickr album.

Created with flickr slideshow.

We hope to have at least two such public lectures a year, widely publicized in the print and electronic media, not to mention advertisements on the LRT! Time will tell if our efforts will bear fruit. TIPH is particularly important in the current climate of massive public misinformation on important health issues.

At the TIPH lecture, we also exhibited submissions to our photo contest—the top three prizes went to Arif Alibhai, Manal Abou-Ghaida, and Mary Masson, all alumni of the School (well, Arif is also staff), together with archival ones taken or used by our marketing and communications team over the years. We thank the judges Michelle Gordy, Virginia Quist, Mariann Rich, Heléne Tomusiak-Donahue, and Don Voaklander for their time. These photos paint a broad, varied and colourful picture of what public health is.

Our students and faculty shine

Candace Nykiforuk is the recipient of the 2014 Community Connections Award in the category of Community Scholar. Her “Community Health and the Built Environment” suite of projects explores how changing the built environment influences healthy decisions. Candace is a co-founder and current co-lead for the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention, a group of 17 organizations that work together to advocate for healthy policy changes in Alberta.

Keren Tang (MSc Health Promotion ’14) received the ATLAS.ti Master’s Dissertation Award from the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology under the supervision of Cindy Jardine. The thesis is titled Through the Lens of the Youth: Exploring culturally relevant physical activity with a northern Aboriginal community through participatory action research.

If you think no one can present the gist of a PhD thesis in three minutes, well, Megan Lefebvre can! Not only can she do it, she even won the Universities Without Walls 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) Contest. You can see for yourself on YouTube.

Her PhD thesis in epidemiology, titled Adherence among chaos: Exploring adherence to HIV medication, was supervised by Duncan Saunders and Stan Houston. Her research aims to understand medication success among HIV-positive individuals who lead “chaotic” lives. She will receive a travel grant and the option to film a professional version of her video at the studio of the Ontario HIV Treatment Network in Toronto.

Dev Menon and Tania Stafinski received the Policy Leadership Award from the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, in recognition of their contributions. As leads in Promoting Rare Disease Innovations through Sustainable Mechanisms (PRISM), a multi-disciplinary research program funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, they provided leadership and support for patient engagement in training in health technology assessment and access to drugs for rare diseases.

They were significant contributors to the Canadian Strategy for Rare Diseases and are recognized for their strong links to the policy community on access to therapies for rare diseases.

Promoting global health locally

Two events brought home that global health is everyone’s concern.

Although Canada was spared the Ebola epidemic, Canadians were none the less affected by it deeply. We worry if our public health system is capable of handling such a crisis when it occurs. There are also many scientific, ethical and political issues that such an epidemic provokes.

The School of Public Health, University of Alberta International, the Faculty of Nursing, the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, and Alberta Health jointly organized a half-day symposium on March 21.

We heard from infectious disease specialist Stan Houston an overview of the clinical and public health aspects of the disease. Geoffrey Taylor, director of infection control at University of Alberta Hospital, reviewed Alberta’s hospital preparedness. Stephanie Urness, an Alberta nurse who has recently returned from the front line in West Africa, described her work under extreme conditions with Médecins Sans Frontière. We were connected by Skype with Her Excellency Rev Dr. Ocanse, a traditional princess in Ghana, who discussed the social consequences of the epidemic in her country. We also heard from two musicians from Liberia–Samuel Morgan (aka Shadow) and Edwin Tweh (aka D-12)–who composed a widely popular song to increase public awareness. I encourage you to listen to it.

That same evening happened to be the annual Rich Man Poor Man fundraising dinner organized by the Office of International Health of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and the Students’ International Health Association.

Our own global health students actively participated in organizing this event. Some of the proceeds will go to support our students’ projects overseas.

At each table, one person got steak for dinner, while the rest had to settle for perogies, signifying the disparities between rich and poor. Invariably, the lucky persons with the draw for steak always share it with the rest of the guests.

Reaching out

Aslam Bhatti, our executive-in-residence, and I were invited to the Thought Leaders speaking series at Alberta Health on March 31. We talked about what the School has to offer to the staff of Alberta Health and presented our preliminary ideas about executive education programs. We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by several of our recent graduates who are now Alberta Health employees.

Your dean goes wherever he is invited (and sometimes not invited), if there is a remote chance to make the School better known. As a sign of dedication, I spoke at the Health Sciences Students’ Association annual conference on a Sunday morning at 8 a.m.

I have also been elected to the board of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), holding the International Liaison Portfolio. Among non-U.S. members are one Canadian school (ours) and MPH programs from Montreal, Mexico, Taiwan and Grenada.

ASPPH is clearly is keen to expand its international reach. Unfortunately, a prerequisite of membership is accreditation by the Council on Education for Public Health, and so getting Canadian schools and programs to become ASPPH members is really all about getting them to subject themselves to the rigours of accreditation.

And finally, appearance matters

There is something about traditions that inspire pride in each of us. The School has always been concerned that people might think we are still part of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. Case in point, since our establishment in 2006, our graduates have continued to wear the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry hood and gown at Convocation. Well, no more! We now have our own colours—they may arrive just in time for our graduates to wear them proudly at Spring Convocation this June.

Kue Young, Dean