Natasha Lifeso, MPH '19

Research Assistant

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Department of Paediatrics, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta

Growing up, Natasha Lifeso was sure she wanted to pursue a career in healthcare. She was fascinated learning about diseases, how the human body works and about health in general. This drove her to pursue an undergraduate degree in pharmacology.

"Through my undergraduate degree I gained a lot of knowledge about diseases, but I felt like an important aspect was missing," explains Lifeso. "I ended up taking a sociology course on healthcare and this helped me find the missing piece- public health. This directed me on my path to graduate school and ultimately the School of Public Health."

It was in that sociology class where Lifeso learned how public health incorporates the social determinants of health. For example, how social, economic, political or educational circumstances, to name a few, can affect a person's health and wellbeing, and the population as a whole.

"Connecting these ideas to my undergraduate background motivated me to pursue public health because it painted a broader picture of a patient's and/or population's healthcare needs," says Lifeso.

Lifeso applied to the master of public health (MPH) program in epidemiology. She chose the MPH because she liked the fact that the practicum requirement bridged theory learned in class and with application in real life situations. She selected epidemiology because it was the "missing piece" she discovered in her sociology course in her undergraduate degree.

"What drew me to epidemiology was how it is more than just statistics and numbers. It connects the dots of individual patient's stories and how different factors - economic status, gender, ethnicity, etc. - can impact their health and wellbeing," says Lifeso.

Although passionate about epidemiology, Lifeso stresses that it was incredibly important for her to keep an open mind during her program. After taking different courses, meeting new people in the School and completing her practicum and capping project, there were many new options and areas of public health that presented themselves.

"My capping project was on workplace safety. The idea of public health and occupational health being connected never crossed my mind prior to my capping project," says Lifeso. "But once I started working on my project, I soon realized how important occupational health is and that it is public health."

Now graduated, Lifeso hopes to take what she's learned in her degree program and implement it in her work as a research assistant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the Department of Paediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta. In the future, she hopes to apply for the Canadian Field Epidemiology program, eventually working in developing countries and in the community to help disadvantaged populations.

"Public health matters because it is about ensuring that everyone has the right to good health, not just those who are educated or can afford to make healthy choices."

Natasha Lifeso is the 2019 MPH recipient of the Dean's Gold Medal. The Dean's Gold Medal was created as a legacy initiative during the School's 10th anniversary celebrations. The award is intended to recognize superior academic performance.