South of 10 and North of 60: Playing my role in keeping international maternal health a Canadian development priority

Gillian McKay is undertaking the DrPH programme in the Faculty of Public Health and Policy. Gillian has recently been awarded a prestigious scholarship by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation in Canada.

It’s 1100 at night, and it’s still light out as I write this blog.  At the moment, I’m in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, where I’ve had the enormous privilege of spending the last week with academics, policy makers, community leaders and colleagues, discussing some of the most pressing issues facing Canadian and International society as part of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation (PETF) Summer Institute.

Just a few weeks ago I was awarded a Scholarship by the PETF, which will support the next 3 years of my Doctoral studies.  This award is incredibly exciting for me, as it will provide me with the opportunity to vastly expand the scope of my research, thanks to the connections I have and will continue to make through the Foundation and the research funds available as part of the scholarship.

The 2016 Trudeau Scholars

The 2016 Trudeau Scholars

As a health care practitioner, I chose the Doctorate of Public Health as it allows me to stay engaged in active humanitarian practice, and provides me with the space to grow my skills in policy engagement, agenda setting, knowledge exchange and practical, field-facing research.  The DrPH is slightly different to the PhD, in that there is a term of taught courses, then an organisational piece of research, followed by the final thesis.  The DrPH aims to train leaders in Public Health policy and practice, and thus, this programme will help me to achieve my long term goals of working in International Development policy with a focus on maternal health.

I am currently working on my organisational policy analysis, a piece of independent research I am undertaking through a placement at GOAL Global, an INGO.  My area of focus is knowledge management for emergency preparedness in health programming, and I am looking at this issue in the Sierra Leone and South Sudan programmes.

My thesis research, which I will start in early 2017, will be an anthropological investigation of the impact of the Ebola epidemic on maternal health in Sierra Leone, is supervised by Dr. Shelley Lees and Dr. Heidi Larson – two School anthropologists with extensive experience in low-income countries and with epidemic disease.  Two factors led me to this choice.  First, my personal experiences of the impact of Ebola on maternal health in Sierra Leone during 2014 and 2015, while working as a humanitarian aid worker.  And second, a visit by Dr. Larson and the School’s Director Professor Peter Piot to my field site while I was in Sierra Leone, which gave me the opportunity to engage with them directly and develop a connection that led to my being accepted as a Doctoral student.

I chose the School for my Doctorate as I knew, from my time here as an MSc student back in 2011/2012, that I would be learning and working directly with the top researchers in my area of interest.  Also, that I’d be part of an academic community who are warm, welcoming and practically engaged in new and emerging Global Health concerns, allowing me the opportunity to network in and out of academic circles.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholarship application process is clearly defined on the website: by and large, they fund Canadian citizens and Canadian Permanent Residents studying for a Doctorate in the social sciences or the humanities.  If you want to apply, I suggest looking at the requirements early (the competition closes in December), as there is quite a bit of paperwork to collate, and 3 references to source!  Additionally, the School has to nominate you by providing a letter of recommendation, and each school is only permitted to nominate a limited number of students. So you’ll have to pass through their nomination process as well.  Then after a couple of interviews (including one in Montreal), you may be successful!  It’s worth all the effort for sure, as the award grants you entry into the Trudeau Foundation Community, an incredible mix of people from academia, industry and government who are there to mentor and support you to become a leader in your field, alongside a generous financial contribution to your studies.

I Love Yukon!

I Love Yukon!

I want to end this blog by thanking everyone at the School who has been so supportive of me during the application process, from my Supervisors, to the Scholarships Team, to the Strategic Research Office and External Relations! I couldn’t have done it without you!

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