“This year my work has picked up quite a bit…I got myself a second part time job!”

We caught up with Sandy Lu, Distance Learning MSc Public Health student, about how she’s been finding the programme since we met her when she first arrived in London in 2018. She took her first blended learning module at LSHTM and enjoyed it so much that she decided to come back and take another module in person in 2019.

Hi Sandy, thanks for coming back to talk to us. Can you tell us how your distance learning studies have been going since we saw you last year?

Hi, thanks for having me here again. Last year after my blended learning module I went back to Canada to finish three more modules. At the moment, I am enrolled in three modules via distance learning and one here in London, so hopefully I will complete all of my modules this year, so I can go on and do my research project next year. I plan to finish the whole programme within four years.

Do you know what you are going to do for your project yet?

I have a general idea! It’s most likely going to be something that’s related to my work. I am still employed at the same spot working as a pharmacist at an inner city health clinic in Vancouver, working with the more vulnerable population living with addiction, mental health issues, HIV and Hepatitis C. At our clinic we’re starting to trial new methods for drug addictions. We’re currently trying something called the Bernese method which is basically micro-dosing of buprenorphine. A group in Switzerland first tried out that method and we adopted it and applied it to our setting. We are trying to gather some information as to how effective it is: does it work for our population or does it need to be changed and adapted? At the moment, we’re just trialling it with our clinic, working with a small-scale population then we’ll work outwards from there.

For your second blended module here at the school, what did you choose to study?

I chose a module called “Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs” as I felt it was really relevant to what I do at work, and also the course is based on developing procedures to evaluate any interventions, thinking about everything in relation to public health policy. We are experiencing an epidemic in opioid crisis and it is a huge concern for the population we serve, so this will be really useful for my work.

In our module, we actually read a paper that was a study based in Vancouver. It was done about 15 years ago and was really interesting to see that institutions in the UK like LSHTM are also looking at studies that were done in Canada. I can tell my classmates that I went to that same clinic, and did a tour there! I’m able to give more insights into that environment because of my background.

Last time we talked about how your studies had been impacting on your career. It sounds you’ve been able to apply quite a lot of what you’ve learned from your blended learning experience to your work. Since then, have you noticed any developments in how much more you’ve been able to bring into your career and working life?

Yes. Over the summer, myself and a pharmaceutical student published a paper with the British Columbia Pharmacy Association – an association for Pharmacists that shares information about good practices with other health professionals. It was based on the Bernese method because we want to get the word out that even though the dosing is not conventional and it’s not Health Canada approved, it’s something we’re trialling. So, if other professionals see this in practice, they don’t need to be alarmed, it’s just something that is relatively new and if they have questions, they can ask us. We’re just trying to spread the word on new techniques that other pharmacies might come across. It has enabled us to set ourselves up as an authority on that area.

Have you made any big changes to the way you work as a result of the programme?

This year my work has picked up quite a bit. I got myself a second part-time job – so it’s a full-time job, a part-time job and part-time study! The new job that I’ll be going into is a contract. I’ll be going to other cities in British Columbia to teach other pharmacists about treatments for drug addiction, how to assess, and also how to provide good service and pharmacy care to our patients. I’ll also address the issues around stigma and the importance of being culturally sensitive, which is something I have learned about from the distance learning programme.

I learned that the gay community, people with mental illnesses or those who depend heavily on drugs or medication are cultures in themselves, so we do have to be compassionate and try to put ourselves in their shoes instead of discouraging them from using any drugs. We try to look at things from their perspective and go with a harm-reduction approach. It’s more of a behaviour, so we try not to diagnose someone with a particular disorder, which seems quite discriminatory.

It seems like you have taken on quite a lot of work this year. How to fit everything in?

Luckily, my studies, work and new job are very similar, so I am learning one thing and trying to apply what I learn to different branches, so it’s not like learning a whole new topic. It is very important to stay organised, though – I always have a planner to write everything down. Time management is key – but I also have a boss who supports me in coming here to study as well as with my other job.

So how have you found it being in London second time around? Have you had a different perspective on the city?

Yes. I am doing fewer touristy activities; it’s been more about blending in, walking around, not having so much planned. Each weekend I try to focus on one particular area that I want to check out and see where it leads me. When you first arrive somewhere, it’s exciting and you want to make sure you fit everything in, but this time I can kind of take it at my own pace a bit more.

We’d like to thank you for talking to us again, Sandy – it sounds like you’ve been doing some really interesting work and we wish you all the best for the rest of your programme and your career!

If you’d like to find out more about studying a distance learning programme at LSHTM visit our website. You can also find out about our blended learning options.

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