Grad student gets hands-on experience with public health system during COVID-19

When Misha Dhuper began her graduate studies in the Master of Public Health (MPH) at Brock less than a year ago, she never dreamt she would have the opportunity to use the skills she was learning to contribute to a nationwide research study during a global pandemic.

In April, Dhuper began the practicum component of her program at Ryerson University’s National Institute on Ageing (NIA), which works to “enhance successful aging across the life course and make Canada the best place to grow up and grow old.”

Under the supervision of Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Health Policy Research at the NIA and Director of Geriatrics at Toronto’s Sinai Health System and University Health Network, Dhuper was part of a team that created the NIA’s Long Term Care COVID-19 Tracker — an online tool available to all Canadians to promote transparency of staff and resident COVID-19 cases in these settings.

Dhuper and her colleagues scoured government reports, newspapers, websites and anything else they could to find all active COVID-19 cases across the country in long-term care homes. The data is updated regularly so that reliable and current data is always available.

“As the head of the WHO has repeatedly said during this pandemic, you can’t fight a fire blindfolded,” Sinha said. “The NIA was thus happy to be able to develop an expert team that could quickly develop a useful resource that could help document and understand what was unfolding in its long-term care homes.”

Dhuper was also part of a project that looked at the provincial and territorial variance of visitor policies in long-term care homes.

“In normal circumstances, many residents rely on family members and other unpaid caregivers for partial care,” Dhuper said. “When the visitor restrictions were put in place as a means of decreasing the spread of the virus in these settings, the harsh vulnerabilities of the long-term care system were exposed.

“In particular, the strict policies may have actually resulted in negligence, partly due to the understaffing of the homes, and social isolation which harms the health and well-being of the residents.”

The NIA compared visitor restrictions across all provinces and territories and prepared a report that advocated for the rights of family caregivers and strived to achieve a better balance between infection control and resident well-being. The document immediately began to have impact on provincial and territorial visitor policies.

For Dhuper, the practicum at the NIA has been the experience of a lifetime.

“Originally I was set to take on a different project, but when the outbreak occurred, everyone at the NIA switched their focus,” Dhuper said. “It was very interesting to see the theory we were learning in class be reflected in reality. We took courses on emergency preparedness, infection control and policy development. Being able to contribute to this project during a global pandemic has made the course content come to life.”

Brent Faught, Graduate Program Director for the MPH said that Dhuper’s application of her course-based knowledge with her public health practicum was “exceptional.”

“She is a shining example of the high-quality and people-centred students to which our institution has become accustomed,” he said.

Faught said students in the MPH program were able to continue their studies uninterrupted during the pandemic because it is a completely online program.

“Due to the public health nature of our graduate program, our students, who are located across Canada, were advocates for public health during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Dhuper is set to begin medical school this fall at the University of Toronto, where she intends to explore the possibilities within geriatric medicine.

“Medical school has always been my dream, but completing my MPH at Brock has provided me with a different outlook on careers in medicine,” she said. ” I’m excited to see where the future will take me.”

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