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Health Sciences
SFU Co-op Student

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Photo of Mahsa Athari
Overtime, my coworkers began to find connections amongst themselves that they weren’t aware of, others joined our lunch table, and people genuinely seemed happier to be at work. As someone who is a people-person, it was a change I really needed to make for myself but it also impacted others in a positive way.

When I first thought about doing co-op, I would have never imagined that I would have two unique 8-month experiences with both a provincial and regional health authority in British Columbia. Like many students, I applied to countless positions, praying that at least one would get back to me for an interview. The job search was challenging,  there were so many jobs to choose from yet only a few that were of real interest to me. Regardless, I still applied to positions I did not care for as much, and funny enough not once did those positions request an interview. It was of course a little disappointing when I didn’t hear from positions -- especially those I was more interested in -- but I remained patient and tried to stay detached from results.

Numerous applications and three interviews later, I was placed in my first co-op term with Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) as a Data Entry Clerk in December of 2014. I was so excited to learn! My position focused on entering data from physician forms into a centralized system. These forms came from clinics at the BC Children’s Hospital, which is the largest care facility under PHSA. My work contributed to measuring the performance of physicians as part of the Performance Measurement team. I used MS Access to enter information and MS Excel to organize the data. I also was responsible for retrieving forms from the hospital each week, as well as scanning and filing documents. Therefore, my work remained independent most of the time.

My office was located at the PHSA Corporate Office in downtown Vancouver. Working in a corporate office had many unique aspects. One thing I found most interesting was that many different teams worked within the same space yet had very little interaction amongst each other. Each team’s workload was unique; however, I was surprised to see that people often worked and even ate independently most of the time. I quickly began mingling with coworkers, inviting them to eat lunch together and go for walks. It had a great impact on the overall work environment. Overtime, my coworkers began to find connections amongst themselves that they weren’t aware of, others joined our lunch table, and people genuinely seemed happier to be at work. As someone who is a people-person, it was a change I really needed to make for myself but it also impacted others in a positive way. The work itself remained the same throughout my work-term which meant the learning curve happened early on. Therefore, much of my motivation for work came from my relationships with coworkers and having a positive work environment. Those 8 months flew by and I am so grateful for that first co-op experience.

After a very busy and demanding school year, I started my second co-op placement with Fraser Health Authority (FHA) as a Project Assistant with the Mental Health and Substance Use team. I worked directly with the Evaluation Leader who was in charge of the evaluation and partial planning of programs that served thousands of people. This meant that there was a lot of work on my supervisor’s plate. On any given day, I sometimes would work on anywhere between two and four projects. This experience, allowed me to learn quickly and apply my skills. Much of our work was done using MS Office tools. For example, we used Excel for creating and updating databases and performing basic analysis; Word to write reports and to develop simple tables and charts; PowerPoint to create presentations for meetings; and Publisher for producing more complex infographics and charts. The position gave me opportunities for very dynamic work, which helped me learn a diverse set of new skills. This time, my office was located in New Westminster, near a trail I used for walks when time permitted. The office was smaller than PHSA, making interactions with coworkers limited due to the smaller number of staff and lack of a large lunchroom space. However, I made it a priority to get to know my coworkers and learn as much as I could from each of their unique positions. And the occasional office potluck helped us to get to know each other better. I completed this 8-month term in December and I am grateful to have gained many skills that I can directly use in my future career.

Both experiences at a provincial and regional health authority provided unique opportunities for growth. Both included aspects I loved and aspects I did not love as much. This allowed me to learn more about myself as an employee and about what motivates me to succeed in my workplace. The opportunity to complete 16 months of co-op will help me make more educated decisions about my future endeavors academically and within my career - so thank you, co-op!

Beyond the Blog

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