Sandy Lu, who lives in Canada, shares her experience of Distance Learning at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Sandy LuThanks for coming in to talk to us today Sandy. Can you start by telling us a little bit about your academic and professional background – before you came to study at LSHTM?

I was born in Taiwan and my family moved over to Vancouver, Canada when I was six years old so I spent the majority growing up in Vancouver. I did my bachelors in biochemistry at UBC (University of British Columbia) and also went to Pharmacy school there, so I spent a total of eight years there.

I am currently a Pharmacist in Vancouver practicing in a primary health care clinic. I help the marginalised population in the inner city, mostly homeless people and those who have challenges accessing traditional health services. I work with an interdisciplinary team (consisting of medical practitioners, nurses, respiratory therapists, social support workers) that specialise in addiction, mental health, and preventing the spread of communicable diseases such as TB, HIV, STDs and hepatitis. Currently I am working towards my Master of Public Health at the LSHTM.

Why did you choose to study the MSc Public Health by Distance Learning with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine?

Interestingly, I came across LSHTM while on a vacation in London a few years ago. I was here visiting my friend and she was telling me that if I was interested in Public Health, this is the school to go to. So I did a bit of research and it turns out that this school is renowned for its public health programmes and work on infectious diseases: Ebola and HIV, and it also offers blended learning –something that I planned to do from the very start – whereas most of the other MPH schools don’t offer this option or have that much of an international base. LSHTM is known for its public health programmes and its globalised teaching approach. Teaching staff and students come from all over the world and they bring a wealth of knowledge to the courses. The opportunity to come to the LSHTM to study a module was a major factor in choosing which public health school was best for me.

In terms of how the programme is taught, the curriculum that the School offers matches my interest in health promotion and infectious diseases, and the distance-learning option allows me the flexibility to work while I study, which is the perfect opportunity to apply the knowledge I am learning into my practice.

Do you feel well supported even though you are at such a distance?

Oh yes. There are in-house lectures from previous years that I listen to, that helps me to understand the concepts. I also like the flexibility of doing things online, I get the freedom to plan my time accordingly.

What has been your favourite aspect of the programme?

I chose the Public Health General Stream just because there were just so many courses that I want to take – so this course offered me more diversity. Aside from the core modules that are required, there is a variety of electives which will be useful for my work in the future, for example Sexual Health. Those modules are not offered in other public health schools, or are not taught in as much detail. So I like the diversity of the courses over here.

I have also enjoyed learning about health issues and policies in various countries from my classmates from all over the world. Because I live in Canada, I have been primarily exposed to public health issues in mid or high-income countries. It wasn’t until I started my programme that I gradually picked up on wider global health issues.

That’s a big part of what the School does I think, there’s a real focus on development and inclusivity, and kind of the value of looking at lots of different areas and having lots of different opinions from students, lecturers – that’s one of our main things that’s unique about the LSHTM.

Yes. And everything is intertwined, for example, with the HIV cases in Africa, I can take their models for tacking HIV and apply it to our clientele, as we do have a lot of HIV patients that we work with in Canada.

Did you have any concerns before beginning your programme? What were they?

Initially I was worried that I am not able to keep up on my studies while working full-time. However, the School emphasizes that the Distance Learning programmes are specifically tailored to students like me who have other work and/or life commitments, and seeing testimonials from other students on the website help settle my uncertainty – I was reassured that most students have a good work – life –school balance. Some of them have full time jobs but are still able to complete the programme in two to five years’ time.

So you have that flexibility of up to 5 years if work is busy for a while; you could take some focus off your studies, and vice-versa if it got quieter at work you could dedicate more time.

Yes. The other students also provide a lot of feedback on how to have a good balance, for example, stay organised and plan everything out so that you don’t fall behind when it comes to March or June when you have exams.

Also, I was concerned that I would not be able to understand the materials without face-to-face tuition. I come from a pharmacy background, and we don’t have that much exposure when it comes to Public health or Epidemiology, so I was concerned about that jump. However, there are multiple resources that we have access to such as in-house lecture recordings, online learning platforms, and the course instructors are very helpful and respond quickly to our questions.

Have you had any ideas about the focus of your research project?

Our clinic [in Canada] is now introducing injectable hydromorphones, whereas the mainstay treatment is Methadone, Suboxone… we don’t really have that much evidence about injectable opiates therapy when it comes to Canada, so it’s something that I am interested in. Eventually that’s what I am hoping to do.

How do you think the programme will help your career in the future?

Currently, pharmacists in Canada do not have a well-defined role in public health on a larger population scale. Everything is based on a particular patient so we’re more centred on patient care specific to that patient. We haven’t really zoomed out to look at the whole population yet, so I think that this degree will help me try to understand and manage some of the issues that we have when it comes to our specific population for example how to prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C…

This course will help me gain insight into the prevention the management of disease outbreaks within the community that I work with. I hope to use this knowledge and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide better care, in terms of addressing some of the public health issues we face on a day to day basis such as health equity.

From a more personal point of view, what have you personally gained from studying the programme so far?

More awareness about what’s going on globally. And about different issues that different countries face. Most of my education is based in Canada so we are more focused on North America but since I started on this programme I have learned what’s going on in other parts of the world for example Africa, South East Asia, and Europe…

So it’s given you a much more global context for the work that you do in North America. And how has it been interacting and learning alongside our London-based students during your module here at LSHTM?

I met other London-based students during my practical sessions. We worked on a project where we took part in an infectious disease outbreak simulation which was really exciting! We spent 3 whole days working closely together. Each student came from a different background and they were so knowledgeable in their respective fields – I learned so much from them.

Is there any final advice that you would give to someone who is considering doing distance learning

It’s something I would recommend that all students consider. The experience you have through coming here is invaluable, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am enjoying doing the distance learning so far – I have a really good work-life-school balance – and I am also able to travel after my exams are over! I am learning so much about myself and also from my fellow classmates. I get to live in a beautiful city with so much culture and history.

It is truly a once in a lifetime experience!

To find out more about distance learning with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, click here.