‘Welcome to the team!’: the first three weeks of my practicum experience, 500km away

We’re super excited to have a great cohort of students working on neglected tropical disease topics this summer from universities across Canada. Chloé Eward is working closely with the CNNTD team on assessing Canadian health and development NGO’s interest and knowledge about neglected tropical diseases. In this blog post, she talks about her first few weeks as part of the CNNTD team – and the practicalities of working away from your team. We’re an adaptable and skilled bunch!

by Chloé Eward, Master of Public Health (MPH) candidate, Western University

I started my practicum experience on the morning of May 11, 2020. “Welcome to the team!” exclaimed all 10 members of the Krentel research team.

Meeting online is the new normal – in our various living rooms, kitchen tables and makeshift offices

I felt reassured and relaxed. Despite having myself and my fellow practicum student colleagues welcomed by Zoom call on a Monday morning amidst a pandemic, the Bruyère team greeted us with warmth and laughs. Seeing only friendly faces and kind smiles, I instantly felt a part of the team.

In defiance of the world’s uncertainty and social disconnection, Dr. Alison Krentel – Chair of the Canadian Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (CNNTD) and leader in global research for the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) – planned for the development of a supportive learning community.

“We like to have team meetings every Tuesday morning to catch up and see how everyone is doing. We also plan to host our own Lunch n’ Learns every Thursday to keep everyone feeling present and accepted.”

Our first Lunch n’ Learn was hosted by Dr. Krentel, who took the opportunity to introduce NTDs as a global burden of disease. Lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and trachoma – all diseases I had never heard of before, which had disconcerting socio-ecological and physical implications. Dr. Krentel discussed the different research areas and implementation strategies which are most important in the management of NTDs, such as mass drug administration (MDA) and the inevitability of patient non-compliance. I was filled with wonderment; it had seemed as though my passionate interests had fallen into the course of my career.

By the following Tuesday, in time for our second team meeting, I had already been working with a member of Dr. Krentel’s team within Bruyère to help plan, design, and publish a fundraising campaign on behalf of a community centre in the Ottawa area. Just one week in, and I had already been supplied with trust and responsibility that would teach me much about organizational coordination and communication. This task not only allowed me to apply various skills I had learned throughout the Master of Public Health (MPH) program – such as program development and team management – but it has also granted me the opportunity to apply my language skills in both English and French.

In parallel with the fundraising project, I have been working on developing the foundations for my main practicum project, a survey research study. CNNTD is a network of individuals and organizations who have interest in mitigating the physical, emotional, and socio-economic effects of NTDs. However, despite their work, many Canadian global health organizations are not aware that their activities contribute to the elimination of NTDs; activities such as deworming and school-based programs are thought to contribute to the control and elimination of infectious diseases, unconnected to reality of NTDs. As such, Dr. Krentel and Amy Davis – the network’s advocacy and policy officer – have interest in developing an online survey to gauge Canadian global health organizations’ interest in the advocacy for and management of NTDs as a global burden of disease.

The beginning of this project entails the submission of an application to the Bruyère Research Ethics Board (BREB). With much encouraging help and guidance from Amy and Dr. Krentel, I was able to complete my first REB application for approval to quick start our survey research study. I am only three weeks into my practicum with CNNTD and I have applied skills I learned throughout course work in the MPH program and accomplished one of my practicum ambitions. With kind smiles, constructive feedback, and confidence from the Krentel research team, I was able to kick-start my remote practicum experience with a bang.

Overall, the Krentel research team at the Bruyère Research Institute has been nothing but welcoming and informative. I look forward to having the opportunity to go to Ottawa and meet the team in person. I have no doubt that my practicum experience with CNNTD will only continue to challenge and inspire me as I go on until the end of July.

Stay tuned for another blog post in July on the results of the survey study!

This piece was originally published on Western University MPH practicum blog.