The business of epidemiology

Chris Normandeau, recent School of Public Health graduate, balanced a full-time job, a part-time graduate program, and regular life-no easy feat.

Rachel Harper - 23 November 2015

The road to graduate school can often be a winding path. Some students know even before starting their bachelor's program where the road in academia will lead them. For others, it isn't quite so clear.

Chris Normandeau, graduate from the fall class of 2015, would fall into the latter group.

Growing up, Normandeau always knew he would pursue his business degree. After receiving his bachelor of commerce (BCom) degree in 2005 from the School of Business at the University of Alberta, Normandeau set out on a career as an inventory manager in the surface mining equipment industry. He continued in the mining industry for two years-until something made him reassess his career path.

"Cancer affected both my family and friends," explains Normandeau. "This hit close to home and made me reconsider my career path. I realized I wanted to pursue a career I was more passionate about, where I could do something that would have a positive impact on others."

This led Normandeau to seek employment with the former Alberta Cancer Board as a data manager with the Cancer Surveillance department. Soon after, he was promoted to operations manager while also serving as a project lead for various larger scale projects. Although his business training and his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification served him well on the operational side of the job, Normandeau felt that he lacked a skill set that his colleagues with a health background benefitted from.

"Because I didn't have a health background, I sometimes found myself unable to contribute as much as I hoped in meetings and discussions," says Normandeau. "Although I was able to bring a lot of unique skills to the table, I recognized a void in my skill set and I wanted to enhance my health background."

"I gravitated towards the School of Public Health because it is highly reputable, offers flexibility with my schedule, and offers specializations in epidemiology or biostatistics-two areas that excited me."

In 2011, with the support of his employer, Normandeau enrolled as a part-time master of science in epidemiology student at the School of Public Health. Here, he balanced a full-time job, a part-time graduate program, and regular life-no easy feat. Although being a part-time student and full-time employee posed a challenge at times, Normandeau believes it was a unique experience to be able to apply his day-to-day learning from school to his career.

Midway through his program, Normandeau accepted a new role at Alberta Health Services, as manager of the Cancer Strategic Clinical Network (SCN). The Cancer SCN is one of eleven SCNs established to ensure Albertans get the most out of their health-care system. SCNs are networks of people-patients, families, health-care professionals, researchers, academic partners, community groups and government-who are tasked to develop and find new transformational initiatives that will shape health care in the province.

Through partnerships with various provincial stakeholders, the ultimate goal of the Cancer SCN is to support clinical effectiveness research and enable teams that want to design and implement innovative care. This focus spans the entire spectrum of care from prevention to end of life. Through this exciting work, he's able to see change and results as cancer care is transformed across the province.

"Because of my unique educational journey, I feel I'm able to provide an important perspective and skill set to Alberta Health Services," says Normandeau. "And through my work, I feel I'm making a meaningful difference and positive impact on all Albertans."