MSc Public Health alumna, Candela Iglesias Chiesa is a researcher and advisor in Global Health and Social Development. Candela told us shared how her decision to pursue a career in Public Health led her to eventually start her own consultancy, CI Consulting two years ago.
After completing my PhD work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and working for some years in Microbiology and Virology research, I decided to shift towards Public Health. I talked to people at various global health organizations and NGOs to get a clearer picture on how to move forward. From different corners, I kept receiving the same message: the best place to get a Public Health diploma was LSHTM. I researched the school and the programmes offered, and was convinced.
A challenge that I faced while studying at LSHTM was prioritising studying when I had so much work in my day job. I tended to prioritise studying only when exams were getting closer! Nevertheless, studying at the School has allowed me to have a broader overview of global health issues and how they connect to psychosocial issues. It has also provided me with a theoretical framework to better understand and tackle the problems I was already working with.
As a distance-learning student, I had fewer opportunities to forge relationships during my studies. However, I used the blended learning opportunity to spend some time in London and at the school, and made some friends and connections there. The best relationships have been those that I have formed as an LSHTM alumna. Today I live in Oslo, Norway and we started a local alumni chapter last year. In addition, in my work, I do short term research and evaluations projects around the world, in countries where I do not necessarily have connections. Being part of the alumni network has allowed me to easily find great people to bring into the team in these countries, who can provide the local expertise and connections. I just send some emails out to people in the alumni directory and the response has always been amazing; so if you are not yet in the alumni directory, make sure you register and fill out your profile!
I have had many proud moments in my career. During my years working at an Infectious Diseases Clinic in Mexico City, my team and I designed and implemented a very succesful HIV Testing and Counselling programme. Each time we managed to detect and enroll in care and treatment one more person, it made it worthwhile. I’m also extremely proud of the sexual education programme we created and implemented with the Mexico Vivo Foundation. Sexual education is almost non-existant in public schools in my country and there’s an “epidemic” of teenage pregnancies. When I saw how the program was empowering these young people full of potential, how it broke down taboos and allowed them to make better choices, I was very proud of the work we had done.
In terms of looking to the future there are three areas that I am passionate about. The first one has to do with integrating health and psychosocial programmes. Many health programmes fail because the psychosocial support component is not there, we are not addressing the structural or personal barriers to care: from costs of transportation, to living conditions to mental health issues that hamper adherence to treatments.
The second one is improving health and social programmes through helping small and mid-sized organizations to get better at collecting and using data. To get better results we need to use evidence. I’ve seen many great programmes that either don’t collect data, don’t collect the right data, or collect data but then don’t do anything with it. All those databases gathering dust are an opportunity to get better results. People are resistant to monitoring and data collection and analysis because they see it as tedious and boring work, instead of precious feedback for programme improvement. This can be changed if we empower people to understand the value and power of data. Data can be so much fun!
My third passion is in working to create better leadership in health and social development programmes. Most professionals working in health and social issues have no leadership or management training and this jeopardizes programme succes. Many programmes require building teams of skilled professionals from different disciplines. How do you get them to work well together? This can be challenging, especially when nothing in your career training prepared you to be a team leader. But as anything else, leadership is a skill that can be learned, and if we want better results, we need to empower people to be better leaders.
My advice to future students is to see every opportunity you have to create connections with fellow students and teachers at LSHTM. Then, when you graduate, make sure you register in the alumni directory and fill out your profile. Keep in touch and become involved, read the alumni blogs and newsletter, contribute to it if you can, join or start a local alumni chapter. These are precious connections with people with whom you share a background and a certain way of thinking and doing things.
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