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Front-row seat

Faculty of Medicine graduate recognized with public health award

Student Life

By Kelly Foss

When Shianne Combden began a master’s in public health (MPH) degree in the fall of 2019, she had no idea she would get a front-row seat to the professional and educational opportunity of a lifetime.

Shianne Combden was working in public health and on a master’s degree on the subject when the global pandemic occurred.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Originally from Fogo Island, Ms. Combden’s career in health care began when she moved to St. John’s after high school to pursue a bachelor of nursing degree.

Upon its successful completion, she headed south of the border to California to work as a labour and delivery nurse.

“The exposure to nursing moms and babies, breastfeeding support groups, well-baby and immunization clinics, and home visits paved the way for a career in public health,” she said. “I did that for years and then got a job in Eastern Health’s Communicable Disease Control department in 2014 during the very early days of a syphilis outbreak.”

Professional opportunity

She worked in several roles within Communicable Disease Control; she was still there when she started part-time graduate studies at Memorial.

However, her second semester was interrupted by Stormageddon in the winter of 2020, which was followed closely by the global pandemic.

“There were many negative aspects of the pandemic, but for me, it presented quite the professional opportunity,” said Ms. Combden. “Not only was I a master of public health student throughout the pandemic, I was also working in public health in case and contact management with Communicable Disease Control.”

As the pandemic began to impact every aspect of public life, she says she “jumped” at the opportunity to join the Public Health Agency of Canada.

It was during this time that she also had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Janice Fitzgerald and the public health leadership team.

“Everything I love about public health I get to do in this position.” — Shianne Combden

Ms. Combden says she was grateful for the support she received from her professors during those demanding days.

She often worked long days and sometimes needed a little extra time to get an assignment done.

“Luckily, my husband was around and could feed me and our young sons,” she said. “It was pretty hectic for a while.”

The experience eventually led to a new career opportunity with the Public Health Agency of Canada as a senior travel and public health officer for the Health Security and Regional Operations’ northern region.

“Part of my job is border and travel health — protecting Canadians from the introduction and spread of communicable disease. Everything I love about public health I get to do in this position.”

Dr. Heather Onyett Award

Recently, she was surprised to receive an email from Dr. Ann Dorward, associate dean of graduate studies in the Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Dorward congratulated her on receiving the Dr. Heather Onyett Convocation Award for the Master of Public Health.

“I was completely shocked, but it was certainly welcome and I was so, so proud to get it,” she said. “Dr. Heather Onyett sounds like an incredible woman. She had a passion for public health and remote health care, so we certainly have those things in common.”

Although Ms. Combden graduated with her master’s degree in the spring of 2023, she didn’t receive it until the fall as the award is aligned with fall convocation ceremonies.

“The skills and tools I developed during the program opened doors for me professionally and are extremely helpful in my work life.” — Shianne Combden

Recipients are nominated by the Master of Public Health Program co-ordinators based on academic excellence.

“I’ve been very fortunate and grateful for the career opportunities I’ve had along the way,” Ms. Combden said. “I would say the MPH program has certainly given me an edge. The skills and tools I developed during the program really opened doors for me professionally and are extremely helpful in my day-to-day work life. I use them every single day in communications with my team and with stakeholders.”

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