PHDA testimonial - Sophy Zhang, Program Administrative Coordinator, Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division

How did you learn about the program and what motivated you to enroll?

I was looking for more training after MPH degree and came across PopDataBC’s free training webinars first, including GIS. I wanted more hands-on experience with data analysis to keep skills sharp while looking for job, so I applied and enrolled in the certificate program. After I began the program I was hired by a non-profit organization. My supervisors were also supportive of my continued studies which was great.

Tell us about your course experience. What skills did you develop and which courses provided the greatest benefit to you?

The GIS courses, PHDA 03 Population Health and GIS and PHDA 04 Spatial Epidemiology and Outbreak Detection provided the greatest benefits. They were excellent and introduced brand new skills for me. Prior to taking these courses I had some brief exposure to GIS within my Master’s program and through the free online PopData courses. The PHDA 03 and PHDA 04 course labs were very detailed and instructional, offering good balance between theory and practice. The courses generally had enough materials I could take away to continue working independently.

The Working with Administrative data PHDA 01 course was also very good. I got to work directly with administrative data early in the program and had a chance to become more familiar with strengths and limitations of data that is collected.

The PHDA 01 and PHDA 02 Epidemiological Statistics course also used SAS software which was very helpful to keep my skills sharp.

The PHDA 05 Longitudinal Analysis and Multilevel Modeling course allowed me to learn new skills in multilevel analyses.

The PHDA 06 Health Services Program Monitoring and Evaluation course was a bit different as it did not have an SRTL lab component. I had taken a very similar course within my Master’s degree but it wasn’t as applied as the PHDA 06 course which had a very practical project component. I found the instructor’s experience and feedback as well as the peer review work really enabled me to get a lot out of the course evaluation project I completed.

How have you been able to (or how do you plan to) apply your new skills in your work/research?

Two major takeaways from GIS courses: 1. Thinking spatially – mapping service needs and approaches based on geographical, spatial, and ecological features, including planning promotional efforts, targeting underserved areas; 2. Concrete tools such as ArcMap and especially free programs such as QGIS and R – use in workplace with little organizational investment

I’m also developing some ideas to do research on mental health service utilization in primary health care, potentially as part of my work.

What do you think were the strengths of this program?

The Secure Research Training Lab (SRTL) was the best. It was a bit complicated to start with for the first time, but I quickly got used to logging on and working in the environment. It’s well worth the effort to be able to do hands-on work with data, with peer and instructor support, and very good technical support (the few times I needed it).

Another strength of the program is being able to work with motivated and knowledgeable peers, learn from one another through well-moderated forum discussions and collaboration. Having dedicated and clear instructors who are patient with distance ed/online format was also a major advantage. Although you are only required to take four courses to achieve the certificate, I took all six courses available.  I felt all courses were very positive experiences for me, with top notch students and teachers who were very engaged and supportive.

Would you recommend this program to others? If so, what recommendations/suggestions would you give those interested in applying to this program?

Yes, I have actually recommended the PHDA program to a few people. The population health data analysis certificate program is an excellent professional development opportunity for new analysts, public health professionals, and anyone with an interest in building on epidemiology and statistics basics. You will learn practical and marketable analysis skills through working directly with a variety of data sources including administrative, survey, and environmental datasets. I would highly recommend that individuals entering the program have their own research questions in mind or be open to exploring. You also need to be prepared to dig deep and manage your time so you can do the required work. The many hours you will spend in the SRTL will be well worth the effort!


Page last revised: February 23, 2017