by Christine Elie, July 2012
Spending her summer in Geneva as an intern for the World Health Organization (WHO), Sarah Wafa is a Master’s of Public Health student at Queen’s University with a keen interest in public and international health. A registered dietician, Sarah worked as a clinical dietician in Montreal after graduating from McGill in Dietetics and Human Nutrition. She is currently working with the Disability and Rehabilitation team in the department of Violence and Injury Prevention within the Non Communicable Diseases and Mental Health cluster of the WHO.
Her work focuses on Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), which is a general development strategy that focuses on enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities, meeting basic needs and ensuring inclusion and participation. Of her work, Sarah says it “is concretely connected to public health as CBR focuses on improving the lives of people with disabilities through a holistic approach…our work does not solely focus on the provision of health services but also on education, livelihood, social and empowerment programs for people with disabilities.”
This summer has Sarah busy working on a long term CBR strategy for the Arab region, and helping with the planning of an international congress. With the 65th session of the World Health Assembly, held in Geneva this past May, Sarah has been quite busy: “I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend several sessions with ministers of health and delegations from the four corners of the globe and was exposed to varying public health challenges and successes.” She is also contributing to a publication on hearing loss. Her involvement with the WHO is much more multifaceted, “its great being a WHO intern as there is a very active intern community with an intern board, which I am a member of.” In addition to her work on CBR, Sarah helps organize seminars for interns, attends WHO library training sessions and frequents lunchtime seminars featuring experts from around the world.
Sarah was drawn to the MPH program because it allowed students to choose where to do their practica. More than this, she states “what I liked about this program is that it does not specialise in a specific area of public health which leaves graduates with greater career options upon completion.” While challenging, Sarah says “it’s an exciting challenge as the anticipated outputs usually involve improving the health and well-bring of populations which is a tremendous motivator.”
After finishing her undergraduate degree at McGill University in Montreal, Sarah worked as a clinical dietician. She believes that her work in the health sector was an advantage as it served as a bridge to the MPH program. She says “I worked in the health sector so there was certainly a link to the MPH program and I do feel that my work experience enhanced my understanding of public health.”
Sarah also enjoys the academic environment that Queen’s provides. As an MPH student she takes some of her courses with students in the Master of Science in Epidemiology program. This, she claims, is an asset to the program: “I found this to be an enriching experience as we got to know the other students in the department and we learnt a great deal from each other.”
Looking back on her year at Queen’s, Sarah had “a wonderful experience adjusting to this new academic and personal environment.” Her time in Kingston has been a mixture of calm academic work and socializing with friends. She also sees the faculty as integral to the process, “within the program and the department, students and faculty are very helpful and supportive and there are great resources and facilities available to students.”
“Regarding my dream job,” says Sarah, “I am keeping an open mind on where I would like to work but I really enjoy the challenges of international public health.”