Student Spotlight: Mona Haimour, MPH – Public Health Program
Mona Haimour, RN, BScN, MSN, MPH(c) is an Assistant Professor in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada. And as an inductee to UNE’s Chapter of the Delta Omega Honor Society last year, she has also proven herself to be one of UNE’s brightest MPH students.
Mona has done wonderfully as a UNE student and full-time professional. She will be finishing up her MPH this semester, and has just returned from a Practical Experience trip abroad in South Africa with the organization Children and Family Health International (CHFI).
Originally from Jordan, Mona earned her Registered Nurse certification and actively practiced as an RN in the area of women’s health, maternal child health and pediatrics for many years there. It was in Jordan that she also earned her Master of Science in Nursing, and began to shift her work from nursing practice to nursing education.
After working and volunteering across the Middle East, including in multiple cities within the United Arab Emirates, she and her husband, along with their little daughters, decided to pick up their lives and immigrate to Canada. They chose Edmonton, Alberta as the place to start a new life. “Immigrating to Canada has been the most transformational chapter in my life and will continue to be. It has significantly contributed to my professional growth and shaped my global citizenship identity. My family and I are proud to be Canadians!” Mona added.
As demand for nursing is high regardless of geographic location, Mona was able to continue her career right away – passing the requirements for registration with the professional and regulatory body for nurses in Alberta, and securing a job teaching at a community college that offered nursing diplomas. Mona’s teaching career grew in tandem with the college, which eventually attained University status as MacEwan University in 2009.
MacEwan University is a growing, dynamic, and vibrant post-secondary educational institution, and as a member of the faculty, Mona was in a key position to help the University determine new strategic directions and develop new strategies for growth. Mona was also part of the team responsible for developing the curriculum for the revamped undergraduate nursing degree.
Departing from tradition
Traditionally in academia, getting a Master’s in Nursing follows the completion of an RN degree, and the next “logical” step is to get your Ph.D. in Nursing. It’s the traditional path taken by thousands of academics – and Mona did start to go down this route. However, a couple of events occurred that caused her to rethink her decision to simply follow this conventional path.
While she was on the waiting list to get into the Nursing Ph.D. program of her choice, Mona’s interest was sparked in the area of public health. Through MacEwan University, she joined global health initiatives, attended global health conferences, and volunteered in her community. And after a couple of years, she was asked to be the Chair of Global Health Advisory and Steering Committee for the University. This involvement led her to explore the idea of getting a second Master’s Degree – this one in Public Health.
“The more I work with and learn about global health and innovation, the more I find it’s the language that I enjoy the most. I’ve definitely found my career and life passion!”
How Mona chose UNE
What captured her attention and attracted Mona to UNE’s Public Health program back in 2013 was the unique design of the MPH program. The model of taking required core courses first, and then selecting electives that complemented her interests, was a model that resonated with Mona.
That UNE’s MPH program is accredited, highly-ranked and reputable were also influencing factors that led Mona to choose UNE. When considering the strategic direction of her workplace, Mona saw important potential benefits to completing an MPH program. She felt that earning her MPH would enable her to move forward professionally to the point where she wanted her career to be in the next 5-10 years. And she knew that UNE’s MPH program could take her there.
Reading through course descriptions on the website, she found the selection of electives appealing. She also felt the courses could help her decide what to do in the future, without constricting her choices within the field. In practice, she found her courses provided her with a flavor of everything before she was able to narrow down the actual study and focus on two topics – global health and innovation – through her Capstone and Practicum.
Currently, the UNE MPH program is moving toward having students complete their Practicum and Capstone courses concurrently. However, this was not an approach that worked with Mona’s lifestyle. With a full time job and a family, Mona felt that taking one course at a time was her optimum pace. With a one-course load, she felt better able to focus all of all of her attention on the content at hand.
In the very beginning of her school career Mona decided to complete her MPH in three years, instead of two, and very much enjoyed the pace. She also found her supervisor, Professor Tin Maung, to be very supportive of her decision to have two separate topics – one for the Practicum and one for the Capstone. “Professor Tin Maung has been a great mentor and a constant source of guidance and inspiration. She continuously conveyed a spirit of encouragement and excitement in my work.” Mona added.
The Practicum experience
“The field experience is a required part of the Master of Public Health program and provides students with the opportunity to apply classroom learning in a public health environment and to work with experienced public health professionals. Working with a preceptor, students will develop goals for the practical experience and complete a defined project… This will be an opportunity to develop practice-based skills that enhance individual career goals and to demonstrate additional skills such as leadership, communication and teamwork…”
On site in Durban, South Africa
For her Practicum, Mona’s passion for innovation in public and global health led her to select a six-week program centered around HIV/AIDS and healthcare. She chose to work with Children and Family Health International in Durban, South Africa. CFHI is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and has programs in many areas of the world, including in Asia, South America and Africa. Within CFHI, Mona partnered with another NGO, The Blue Roof Wellness Centre in Durban, South Africa.
Mona had to choose a project that would fit The Blue Roof Wellness Centre’s current and future needs, and that would also fit and help develop her skills. There are a great deal of medical and public health-based services provided at The Blue Roof Wellness Centre, including HIV testing and counseling, psychosocial and adherence support, tuberculosis and cervical cancer screening and community outreach programs.
After careful consideration, and in collaboration with the internal stakeholders at The Blue Roof Wellness Centre, she found that the area most underserved within The Blue Roof Wellness Centre was public health education. This manifested itself in a need for a toolkit of high quality health promotion materials. Mona’s initial proposal was to develop these health promotion materials focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention, screening, and treatment.
Beginning the project with research
Once her proposal was accepted by CFHI, The Blue Roof Wellness Centre and UNE, Mona was able to begin the project. She completed some background research at home in Canada, but felt that she needed to do fairly extensive on-site research to more deeply connect with her target population. Over the course of her six-week stay in Durban, South Africa, Mona determined that she would need to spend two to three weeks researching and collecting data through surveys and interviews with the target population she was trying to reach.
For the material research and design, she had to collaborate with stakeholders both at The Blue Roof Wellness Centre and within the community. She evaluated the existing educational materials using a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to conduct a gap assessment on the materials and determine what existed already and what was needed. She also used her research to evaluate what would best appeal to the target population. At this point she shared the data and her findings with the stakeholders at CFHI and The Blue Roof Wellness Centre.
Analyzing the data and making an adjustment
Through her analysis of the data, Mona found that a subtle shift in message would resonate more deeply with the target population The Blue Roof Wellness Centre was trying to reach. So collectively with the stakeholders at The Blue Roof Wellness Centre, Mona shifted the focus of her proposal. Instead of addressing only HIV/AIDS prevention, she focused on fostering self-efficacy and achieving overall well-being. Through her research, she found that a more comprehensive health promotion approach would better equip youth and adolescents with the knowledge and skills to build confidence in their abilities, enabling them to make informed decisions and positive choices about their bodies and health.
Putting it all together
Incorporating key pieces of what she had learned over the past three years within her Public Health classes allowed Mona to revise her initial proposal to be more effective at achieving her end goal. She felt that she wasn’t forced to go through an established “Public Health Student” lens. She integrated her graduate education – specifically the principles of community engagement, program planning and evaluation, and project development and execution – and her life and professional experiences to develop alternative methods of communication and teaching to reach her target population.
Mona’s ‘Youth and Adolescents: Health Promotion Toolkit’ aims to increase HIV/AIDS prevention by reducing new infections among the 15-24 year old at-risk population, and most importantly, to enhance the quality of life of future generations.
Mona’s Health Promotion Toolkit includes sections on:
- Mental well-being – healthy relationships, unhealthy relationships, dating violence, sources of pressure, values, boundaries in relationships, interpersonal communication skills, problem solving, decision-making, media, social media and relationships
- Growth and development – coping with development, puberty, self-esteem, body image and hygiene
- Harm reduction – prevention of risky behaviors including unsafe sex-practice, alcohol drinking, and substance abuse
- Sexuality and sexual health – HIV/AIDS, STI, and contraceptive methods
These specific outcomes were developed strategically, to align with The Blue Roof Wellness Centre’s local, provincial, national and international strategy and future directives that embark on the “Fast Track Targets for ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030” published by UNAIDS.
Mona added, “all of these sections will be supported by selected social and behavioral theories that are proven to promote healthy change and enhance positive outcomes and self-efficacy. The toolkit will have lesson plans for each section, and the staff of the Outreach program at The Blue Roof Wellness Centre will have them available in PowerPoint format on their flash drives, for use in school and community settings.”
Getting community buy-in
As a part of her health promotion strategy development process, it was not enough to simply produce the materials – in the pilot stage of the project Mona needed to actually deploy and teach them to prove their effectiveness. She also needed to convince other health educators that her materials were useful and valuable. Without buy-in, her materials would exist, but they would likely languish and nothing of consequence would be implemented down the road.
As Mona explained, “with health promotion or any public health intervention, it’s all about diffusion of innovation. If you develop something brilliant but it doesn’t go beyond your backyard, that’s not an effective effort – it’s all about testing, sharing, dissemination and utilization of knowledge.”
Accompanied by a stakeholder, Doreen Louise from The Blue Roof Wellness Centre, Mona met with two schools and introduced them to her health promotion project. She was met with a great amount of enthusiasm, and she was invited to teach at two schools that week to present and pilot her materials. A critical aspect of being successful in public health is knowing your audience – and Mona knew that the key to reaching her adolescent audience would be to engage them through the use of interactive teaching materials.
Reaching her audience
Mona succeeded in getting her message across by using innovative, evidence-based, right-based, culturally-appropriate, and cost-effective materials including interactive visuals, animated videos, quotes, and drama and role-play tools. Inspired by scenarios that she adapted from credible sources, she was able to guide her students and experience their transformation from silent and tentative to excited and fully engaged by the end of the class. “It was fascinating to get a volunteer student along with the Math teacher, Mr. Dula, to act the role-play,” Mona said. “They came up with the script for the role-play and acted it very well!”
Mona appreciated the support and guidance she received from the managers and staff at The Blue Roof Wellness Centre, particularly from her Practicum Preceptor, Tessa Beaunoir, and the Pharmacist, Doreen Louise. “Both provided me with great learning opportunities that were beyond what I had expected. My Practicum project with The Blue Roof is just the first building block for a future North-South Global Collaboration and Partnership!”
Mona was able to absorb a comprehensive overview of public and global health over the course of her studies and, in one way or another, apply to her Practicum experience the key learnings from virtually every class she had taken during her previous three years of graduate school.
“Everything just came together.” says Mona.
The right amount of support
Along the journey, Mona found that UNE’s student support system provided just the right amount of guidance. Her Student Support Specialist and primary point of reference, Elizabeth Benz, helped guide her in making informed decisions, but ultimately left the final decision making in her hands. And the format of the program kept her coming back because she felt she was valued as a student and that there was great interaction within the courses.
“I loved every day of being a student,” says Mona “There wasn’t a day that I didn’t want to study, or a course that I didn’t take something from.”
Words of Wisdom from Mona
To the graduate students who are planning to pursue their Practicum experience and project in the near future:
- Be yourself
- Recognize that you are a global citizen
- Embrace every single learning opportunity available at the assigned organization;
- Use your negotiation skills
- Establish professional networking and keep in mind that you are a representative of the UNE MPH program
- Enjoy the freedom to be creative and apply all of what you have learned through the MPH program
Put It All Together!
Whether your project is at home or abroad – cultural humility and openness to learn from others are key ingredients to a successful Practicum experience and, indeed, your future career.
As graduation draws nearer, the next academic milestone for Mona is the presentation of her Capstone project, entitled “Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health in the Sustainable Development Era: A Conceptual Framework for Integrated Innovation.”
Mona will be presenting her Capstone project at Johns Hopkins University in November, as a part of the 21st International Congress on Women’s Health Issues’ “Scale and Sustainability: Moving Women’s Health Forward,” which is quite an honor.
We are looking forward to following up with Mona in November to see how her presentation went!