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Career-ready skills vital to these OVC grad programs

This article is part of a monthly series highlighting strategic areas in the OVC Healthy Futures Strategic Plan 2022.

We recognize that our graduates are entering a global community that has evolved and expanded, creating new scopes of practice and career opportunities. Our programs will continue to be learner-centered and will evolve to include career-oriented, hands-on curricular and co-curricular learning opporutnities with an emphasis on lifelong learning that facilitates career transitions. 

Career-ready skills come in many forms. Hands-on training, mentorship and job placements are just a few. 

For the Master of Public Health (MPH) and the Master of Biomedical Science (MBS) program in Reproductive Biotechnologies at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, practicums, in-house training and visits to career-related organizations are a critical piece of the curriculum.

Master of Public Health student They not only provide students with practical skills, they connect the curriculum with real-world applications and can open the door to career opportunities. 

The 12 to 16-week practicum in the MPH program’s summer semester allows students to put into practice things they have learned in the classroom, says Prof. Andrew Papadopoulos, associate professor in OVC's department of Population Medicine and  MPH Coordintor. Most importantly, he’s found it helps them better understand who they are as a professional and the workplaces that suit them. “They get an understanding of the entirety of the public health system and where they can fit in in the future.”

MPH student on practicum in UgandaPapadopoulos and his program team meet with each new student in the fall semester to discuss what they would like to focus on during their practicum. They discuss the type and size of organization they are interested in, potential geographic locations and their area of interest. Is it infectious disease, environmental health, chronic disease, health promotion, mental health? 

“We review their resume and talk with them about how to prepare for the interviews,” he adds. “I think having a strong practicum program where you offer very good opportunities is beneficial to both the student and the program.”

Each student has a different experience within their placements. “Some will be data gathering, some might be doing data analysis, some might be developing a program, some might be doing an evaluation,” says Papadopoulos. “I think it checks a lot of boxes for the students and I believe it is one of the reasons why we have so many applicants to this program.”

Likewise, Prof. Laura Favetta, Biomedical Sciences, has watched the course-based MBS program in Reproductive Biotechonologies grow in popularity.

MPH and MBS programs growing in popularity 

Initially developed over seven years ago by Prof. Allan King, Biomedical Sciences and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Animal Reproductive Technologies, the Reproductive Biotechnologies stream provides students with hands on laboratory training with in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques and experiential learning opportunities. 

MBS students on farm field trip.“Allan established the first collaboration, that’s how it all started. I had the privilege of being involved with the program from the very beginning,” says Favetta, who completed her PhD with King and worked with him as a research associate while the program was developed. She joined OVC’s Biomedical Sciences department as an assistant professor in September 2017 and now oversees the program. 

Central to the program’s curriculum is six to eight weeks of in-house training at the reproductive technologies lab at OVC in IVF techniques, says Favetta. “We consider that part of the workplace skills training and students are so fortunate they can gain that right here.”

The MBS program also includes a research component with Biomedical Sciences researchers including Jon LaMarre, Pavneesh Madan, Gabriela Mastromonaco and Jim Petrik, along with King and Favetta. 

The MBS reproductive technologies stream has grown from four students in its first year to 10 students this year. 

“Interest is growing in the program and we’re very fortunate to have Dr. Tobi Oluwole who recently joined OVC,” she notes. In addition to providing the in-house IVF training, Oluwole facilitates myriad administrative areas including logistics with industry partners. 

Building relationships is critical

Both Papadopoulos and Favetta note building relationships is critical to developing practicum and placement opportunities.

With the MBS program, an initial collaboration with One Fertility in Burlington has grown to include visits to Semex, a bovine genetics company, to learn about semen collection from bulls, and to Mount Sinai Hospital to learn more about human IVF. An additional opportunity is a ride-along field visit with Dr. Adam Haight, an OVC 2005 DVM graduate, to observe in vivo collection of female reproductive cells or ovums on large animal farms. The day in boots and overalls attracts students from biomedical sciences as well as animal bioscience, says Favetta. 

Not only do students learn more about potential careers, they also make mentorship and potential job connections, she notes. She estimates half the program graduates now work with IVF clinics in Southern Ontario, with others going to pursue a variety of related careers including veterinary or human medicine. 

Since the MPH program began in 2008, Papadopoulos has developed strong relationships with many local, provincial and federal agencies such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, University Health Network, and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. As the program grows so does this roster. 

MPH student on practicum“Now we have some former students at these agencies. They like giving back and mentoring students,” says Papadopoulos. MPH alumni have gone on to careers including health information and policy analysts, health promotion specialists and epidemiologists with local, provincial and federal organizations. 

Benefits to host organizations are numerous. First and foremost, they get some projects completed, whether it’s doing a survey, evaluating a current program, analyzing data, or developing a program, says Papadopoulos. “Often it is a project that they might not have time to do otherwise.” 

But he also sees benefits in terms of their job satisfaction. “They are training the future and making a difference in a young person’s career. When hosts join us at the MPH forum every November, they are thrilled to see students present their work and they all say the same thing, students are more confident after their practicum.”

An added benefit to students, OVC and the U of G with each program is the community connection. 

This year three MPH students will work at the Guelph Community Health Centre, two in their regular activities and one working directly with their drug prevention strategy around opioid use, including connections with local police and other community members. 

“The more we get involved with the community, the stronger the relationships become. Almost always the agencies come back and say I can’t believe we were so close to this resource and didn’t realize you were here, opening the door for further collaborations,” says Papadopoulos. Whether here in Guelph or elsewhere, as a community partner, we raise their capacity and they give us relevance in our curriculum and accelerate students’ job readiness.”