“To create meaningful public health policies, you need to know what it’s like to build relationships with people in the community.”
Dr. Rohit Vijh
I am a resident at UBC in the Public Health and Preventative Medicine program in Surrey, with family medicine training included in my program. My passion for public health and medicine began during my undergraduate training at McGill, where I started working in epidemiology and public health as it relates to HIV. I worked with marginalized populations and the LGBT community, which was very impactful, especially as I identify with that community.
To really understand how to care for a community and a population in a broader sense, you need to know what it’s like to be a provider of direct patient care. That’s why family physicians make for great public health officials.
During the pandemic, public health residents were brought into the front-line response. I worked with Vancouver Coastal Health doing research to improve the quality of public health interventions in long-term care facilities. During the peak of cases in November, many of us were called to Fraser Health to support medical officers with addressing the various outbreaks.
I, alongside my preceptor, worked to manage clusters of cases in schools, advising on who to isolate, who to test, and whether to close schools. I got to work with community stakeholders in a way that I never had before. We had conversations with parents, teachers, and school boards to be able to better understand the situation and make shared decisions.
I chose to train in the Surrey program because I am from the South Asian community and want to become an advocate for this population. When we saw that the South Asian community was being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in BC, I wanted to understand why and determine how we could help. I worked with the South Asian Health Initiative (SAHI) team: a large group of outreach workers who do so much work on the ground in terms of education, counselling, and cultural translation of public health messaging. It was very meaningful to be able to engage in that front line.
A lot of public health officials have family medicine training. To create meaningful policies that will engage stakeholders, you need to know what it’s like to build individual relationships with people in the community. Working on the clinical frontline, you get that lived experience of how public health issues impact people’s mental health, well-being, livelihood, and ability to see loved ones – all of which is essential knowledge when building public health policies. Just as in your family practice, you take peoples’ lives and stories and try to build solutions that fit their lives. Family medicine really helps you understand what it means to make those imperfectly perfect decisions for patients.
Family physicians build longitudinal relationships with patients and their families and become pillars in their communities. My preceptor has been a family doctor for decades and her patients adore her – she’s the most important person to them in their health care. Similarly, each public health physician is tied to an individual community, so they build relationships with people on the city council, school board and other local organizations. It stems from the family medicine training – we love to build relationships and this job is all about knowing your community inside and out. When I wake up every morning, I’m excited because I know who I get to talk to that day and can anticipate that conversation.
I have my second year of family medicine training to complete before more public health training. I want to keep working as a medical health officer in BC as well as build a community practice focused on sexual health, youth health and mental health.