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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Front line troops in demand

By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun

Horror stories make headlines. Whether it's e-coli bacteria in drinking water, mad cow disease, SARS, avian flu or the re-emergence of TB and smallpox -- once thought eradicated in this part of the world -- the list is long and frightful.

Thank goodness for public health inspectors. Little known and seldom celebrated, they are the front line troops who keep most of the public healthy most of the time.
Tim Sly is Director of the School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson

Toronto's Ryerson University is the only school in Ontario that trains public health inspectors, and the demand for them never ceases, says the university's Tim Sly.

Sly, director of the School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson, says, "We have no trouble at all in placing graduates. They are snapped up immediately."

He suggests three reasons why that's so: there are new pathogens -- "raccoon rabies," SARS, avian flu -- cropping up, staff is retiring, and the thawing of a hiring freeze.

This year there are about 90 students in the program at Ryerson, Sly says, split between a four-year program largely for high school graduates, and a two-year accelerated program for students who usually have a science degree. But irrespective of which stream they enter, all students can expect a very heavy workload that's strongly theoretical in the early going.

High school graduates need marks at least in the mid 70s, says Sly, with credits in English and preferably chemistry and biology. In the two-year program he says he has three students with doctorates, a dozen or so physicians trained overseas, as well as dentists and veterinarians who were educated abroad.

Sly even has a student from Walkerton, the small town in southwestern Ontario, whose residents were poisoned by e-coli bacteria in their drinking water several years ago.

Classes are split about 50-50 male and female. Tuition costs range from about $4,800 to $5,100 a year.

All students who graduate from the Ryerson program are awarded a BASc, but they have to pass a national licensing exam to receive a
  • Ryerson University is the only school in Ontario to train public health inspectors.
  • Students can enter a two-year or a four-year program depending on their qualifications.
  • Public health inspectors can expect to deal with cases of suspected rabies, restaurant inspection, waste management, communicable disease, water quality and more.
  • Starting salaries in smaller centres start in the $40,000 range with the pay in urban locations increasing accordingly.
  • Tuition fees for a year cost between $4,800 and $5,100.

  • Certificate in Public Health Inspection (Canada) before they can start work. Sly says salaries start at about $40,000 a year in small rural jobs, and climb accordingly in the major urban centres. Managers in senior posts can expect to earn as much as $100,000 a year.

    Sly says public health inspectors have an extremely wide mandate and can work with food, water, waste management, outdoor pollution, communicable disease and so on.

    Sonia Abraham is one of his fourth year students. She spent two years studying nursing at Ryerson before switching. Abraham says she wanted to stay in the health field and has found a home in public health. She works part-time for Peel Region and hopes to develop her career there. "I'd like to go into communicable disease as a technical analyst, or something similar," Abraham says.

    Anna Miranda graduated from the four-year program at Ryerson in 1994 and worked for Halton Region for almost six years before moving to Toronto Public Health. Now manager, communicable disease liaison unit, TPH, Miranda says for anyone considering a career as a public health inspector an interest in public service and a love of science are two of the keys to success.

    She says she's worked quarantining cats and dogs, inspected restaurants and dealt with SARS, among other things.

    "That's what I find exciting about public health. There are so many

    different things to do. With public health you have to be flexible. You have to be enthusiastic and a good communicator."

    Miranda obviously is. She says eight people she knows have gone into the public health program at Ryerson.

    (Reach freelancer David Chilton at

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