Health sciences alumnus Zakary Zawaduk.

Master of Public Health alumnus helps address Vancouver overdose crisis

October 05, 2017

SFU alumnus Zakary Zawaduk is immersed in developing policies that address Vancouver’s overdose crisis, one of B.C.’s highest-profile health epidemics.

A city planning assistant in the Social Policy and Projects Division at the City of Vancouver, he contributes to policy development, administers grants, advocates for increased support from provincial and federal governments, and works with other health, community and peer organizations to support effective interventions.

Zawaduk, who graduated in 2016 with an SFU Master of Public Health (MPH), frequently finds himself drawing on lessons learned during the course of his studies.

When he registered for the MPH program four years ago, he was seeking perspectives of wellness beyond the biomedical model of health. He had seen firsthand the limitations of traditional health approaches in his work with individuals struggling with mental health, homelessness, and substance use. The MPH program delivered, focusing on how social determinants such as income, education and social environments all impact health.

“I felt like a big piece of the puzzle was being put in place,” says Zawaduk, who has a bachelor’s degree in social work and experience as a frontline worker with AIDS Vancouver Island and PHS Community Services Society.

He was initially drawn to the MPH curriculum because it offered four study concentrations. The social inequities and health concentration, in particular, spoke to Zawaduk, who wanted to learn more about how social, institutional and economic circumstances contribute to poor health, and also influence access to care.

In his third semester, he completed a practicum with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) under the supervision of epidemiologist Jane Buxton, a key figure in harm reduction policy. There, he gained insight into implementing public health policy, and connected with other public health professionals.

“The practicum was experiential learning at its best, and I learned firsthand what it takes to develop strong policies that are inclusive and meaningful,” he says.

Zawaduk acknowledges that his MPH degree has given him an edge in his career. “Thinking upstream to address factors that have the greatest effect on health now comes naturally when I am working on a public health issue."