Q&A with Dr. Kate Tairyan

On the power of competency-based education and leadership for bolstering public health workforce capacity locally and globally

Dr. Kate Tairyan is a Senior Lecturer at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences where she co-leads the Health Sciences and Public Health Education Research Challenge area. Dr. Tairyan’s career in global health and public health education spans over two decades, and her public health experiences include several positions at the Ministry of Health of Armenia and various international organizations on health policy development, health reforms and poverty reduction.Over the past ten years, Dr. Tairyan has also pioneered online learning and dissemination of free competency-based courses in public health through her work with educational non-profits.

Dr. Kate Tairyan

CCGHR is committed to supporting equitable approaches in global health research and training. In this interview, we discussed Dr. Tairyan’s work in reducing barriers to public health education and training and her commitment to democratizing public health education.

Interview by Zeba Khan, CCGHR BCCI SYP

What motivated you to get involved in projects promoting public health education globally?

In short – my own personal experiences and the joy of being a part of public health capacity building then, now and in the future! Let me tell you more. Early on in my public health career I experienced first-hand the barriers to high quality public health education, especially in lower income countries. These included cost, distance and lack of local universities offering any training in public health, to name a few. For someone like me it meant leaving everything behind and travelling across the globe for education. My own quest for solid public health training brought me from Armenia to France, the USA and eventually to Canada. I benefited from generous fellowships and scholarships to pursue my education in public health, and I know it is not attainable for most in the global south. I devoted the next 15 years of my professional career to utilizing the power of internet and promoting high-quality education around the world.

Developing and offering competency-based courses in critical areas of public health (such as global health, health systems, health promotion, health workforce development) both at a public university where I work, and online, through free e-leaning initiatives became a mission for me. Be it mentoring graduate students one-on-one, helping students find their passion in global health, or inspiring a large class of undergrads to choose a career that would lead to better health and equity is my job – day in and day out. Did you know that knowledge is doubling every 12 months, and with the current rate of increasing internet access, we are on our way to seeing knowledge doubling every 12 hours? Being immersed in identifying and assessing online learning content for quality and suitability for higher education, I believe we can provide high quality public health education that is affordable and accessible where the public health workforce is needed most. Universities have an important role to play in democratizing public health education and in the next chapter of my work as an educator and global health professional I will be laser focused on that very goal!

What are some of the exciting projects that you are currently working on?

This summer I wrapped up an important public health project I have been working on for the last 1.5 decades on improving access to online education through a non-profit, educational start-up and I am gearing up for other projects. 

I am working on an exciting course on Public Health Leadership, and there is no better time to get it done when leadership in public health is so highly sought after! The course is competency-based, only utilizes open educational resources (OERs) from the most reputable sources and has skill building activities that would be suitable both in classroom and community-based learning. My former MPH students and mentees are driving this project with me. It will be available to students at SFU and globally through multiple partnerships (including the WHO, other international organizations and public health authorities around the world). 

Another exciting initiative I am proudly working on with a group of very talented colleagues at SFU is focused on health sciences education scholarship; simply put, bringing research and teaching together. This initiative aims to enrich not only the experiences of our local student and faculty community, but also to explore various avenues of wider sharing and dissemination of such high-impact pedagogical practices. Among our first initiatives we are researching the effectiveness of experiential and real-life learning. We bring the faculty and students together to ask and explore relevant questions about our teaching and learning methodologies. You can imagine how crucial this is in the challenging times that both students and faculty are facing worldwide as we speak. In my case, I am working on several global health courses where I will be introducing new OERs, interactive learning tools, games, and will test their impact in my classroom and beyond. The results will hopefully help improve global health education worldwide.

How can someone get involved with your work, especially in advocating for global access to public health education?

The best and most joyful part of my role as an educator is working everyday with aspiring and bright young professionals, the future public health leaders. Whether you are a current student, a recent graduate, or at your first public health job, I would love to hear from you, your ideas on what works and doesn’t work, and what you wish would have been different in your own academic journey. There are endless possibilities as to how academic programs can work with various public health organizations (governmental or non-governmental) in enhancing training and capacity building for solving real world public health challenges! I look forward to connecting with you.

Zeba Khan

Zeba has recently earned her BSc. in Physiology and Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia and is excited to build a career in global health. A staunch believer of equal access to healthcare for all, Zeba is devoted to advocating for free access to menstruation care products. Her dedication to advocating for menstrual and healthcare equity has earned her multiple accolades, notably the prestigious Diana Award. 

Q&A with Dr. Cherie Enns

I think I am always learning and my thoughts on this are always shifting. What right do I have to impose ideas and values on other communities? For me, more recently, it means I am more of a listener than a doer

Dr. Cherie Enns is an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley’s School of Land Use and Environmental Change. She holds a Masters in Community and Regional Planning from the University of British Columbia, and a Ph.D. in International Policy and Program Management from Ardhi Regional University in Tanzania. Her research focused on pandemics, climate change, and conflict and their impact on children. She is also a registered urban planner.

Interview by Julia Chalmers

What lead you to become involved in sustainable development and program planning?

I grew up in Kenya which is what drew me to working in that region. I was also initially drawn to social work as a career, but I realized that community planning is in a way social work at a community level and that intrigued me.

What global development issues are you most passionate about?

I am very passionate about children’s’ rights. My main areas of research include children in conflict, children in pandemics, and children affected by climate change. A recent project of mine was investigating grave violations against children in areas of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa.

In your opinion, what are some of the most critical global development issues?

Children in conflict, children in pandemics, and children affected by climate change. There are so many elements and components. If we could address pandemic conflict and climate change, a lot of the other elements as they related to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) would inadvertently align, such as poverty, education, and food security.

How has working on both community and international levels impacted your view of global citizenship?

I think I am always learning and my thoughts on this are always shifting. What right do I have to impose ideas and values on other communities? For me, more recently, it means I am more of a listener than a doer, I am a facilitator and a mobilizer. I am not someone who is going to solve problems without listening really carefully to communities. That doesn’t mean I don’t have particular skill sets that I would like to use in some contexts, but they can’t be used divorced from the local leadership or community.

What roles do disaster planning, crisis management, and urban planning play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you think of almost anything, from how we organize our housing, to how we create public spaces and play spaces, every element of the city in a pandemic has to be rethought. Everything we talk about as good such as public spaces, bringing people together, transit, increasing density, all have health implications. For example, if you go back to the history of urban planning, it really formally began following the Industrial Revolution. During this time, people worked very closely in inner cities, in manufacturing and different industries and faced cholera and disease. City planners and those who could afford to try and escape those elements of the city had to rethink how to plan and design cities to be more prepared and resilient in the face of pandemics.

What advice would you give to students pursuing a career in global health and sustainable development? 

  • Try to know your audience. You cannot go into a project without empathy and understanding as motivation
  • Live in the place where you hope to work or research, get to know that community. I am honoured to have completed my PhD in Tanzania and will be a visiting scholar at Ardhi University next year when on sabbatical.
  • If you want to work internationally, perhaps begin by working locally with immigrants and refugees and migrant communities here so that you’ve got some understanding of a culture before you travel elsewhere.
  • Be very cognizant that you’re not the expert; you’re just a resource person. The experts are the people who live in that context or place.
  • If you’re interested in working with the UN or WHO, I would certainly look for international internships or experiences. Pay attention to programs such as Queen Elizabeth Scholars program as Universities Canada has integrated exchange and reciprocity into this program.
  • In addition to the applied work, there is also the policy work, and that’s where masters and Ph.D.’s can be very useful if you’re interested in global health policy and the effect on communities.