Case study

Rising to
the challenge

Rabia Khan likes a challenge. Which is a good thing – she balanced her Master of Public Health at Derby with looking after young twin boys and emerged from her studies into the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Since then she has been working for Public Health England (PHE), advising the government on its response to Covid-19; she’s also an associate lecturer at the University of Derby and an assessor at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Choosing Derby

Rabia chose Derby for her masters study because the location suited her personal situation. Having completed her undergraduate studies in Canada, she worked for four years as a researcher at the Neuroscience Institute in Qatar. When her husband, who is an A&E specialist, took up a role at the Royal Derby Hospital, the family relocated to the city, drawn by its central location and affordability.

But there was much more about Derby and the course that appealed to her: “I love the campus – it’s spacious with all the facilities you need – including the gym – but it’s not overwhelming.”

Rabia's story

Close up of Rabia focusing on data

View Rabia's story video transcript

Overcoming anxiety

Rabia has a severe hearing impairment: “That had impacted on the last two years of my undergraduate education, because it wasn’t diagnosed. I linked going back to study with a bit of anxiety. So I reached out to the wellbeing services at the University of Derby and they responded swiftly. Even before I had applied, they sat with me and explained the support they could offer. This meant I overcame my nerves before I started.”

Diverse community

Rabia discovered that her fellow students came from a wide range of backgrounds and professional careers: “We had nurses working in palliative care, there were people from paediatrics and health commissioning services. One of my classmates worked with individuals with acquired disabilities, linking them and their care takers with support services to enhance their quality of life. As a result, the class discussions were varied and interesting. There was never a dull moment.”

“There’s a big community of international students at the University and the Public Health course caters to a global student body and values diversity. So I learned not only about the pressing issues faced by the public health system in the UK, but also to critically assess issues in South Asia, Africa, Central America and others. Being a part of this lively international community has been an enriching experience – I’ve learned to function as an effective listener, and value and acknowledge multiple perspectives.”

Graduating in the early days of the pandemic, Rabia took some time to focus on her family, and began to look for work when her sons started school. Armed with a distinction from her course, she received a number of job offers, and accepted one with the Joint Modelling Team at Public Health England. “I am a public health scientist, so the pandemic was the right time for me to roll up my sleeves. I supported the guidance committee that informed the Cabinet – I generated slide decks and evidence for SPI-M and SAGE, which inform the UK government on policies pertaining to the lockdown and non-pharmaceutical restriction measures.”

Supporting the next generation

Alongside her role, she has also been lecturing at the University and working as an assessor on the Health Economics and Policy Certificate course offered by the LSE. “It gives me great pride that I am training the next generation of public health practitioners. I draw on my knowledge that I gained at the University as well as expertise I have acquired in the workplace. I don’t think this would have been possible without the University in the first place.”

Rabia is about to move on to a new role, as Associate Director Epidemiology in Global Evidence at AstraZeneca. “This role is more strategic and operational in nature and focuses on oncology. The team was seeking someone with ten years’ experience, but I applied and they were impressed with my determination to learn and excel.”

Master of Public Health graduate Rabia Khan

It gives me great pride that I am training the next generation of public health practitioners. I don't think this would have been possible without the University.

Rabia Khan
Master of Public Health

Advice when needed

For both her roles, Rabia has been able to go back to her lecturers at the University for advice and support: “When I was applying for my first job, the Programme Leader for the Master of Public Health, Jo Brown, gave me valuable feedback on my interview presentation, encouraging me to consider various approaches. And for the AstraZeneca role, I consulted my Epidemiology and Statistics lecturer, Dono Widiatmoko since he has experience working in the private sector. He advised me to go for the role as opportunities like this don’t come along very often.”

As for the future, Rabia plans to continue to challenge herself and inspire others. “I’ve worked with incredibly hard-working, dedicated and highly competent scientists in my role at PHE and I aspire to be like them. Eventually I want to pursue a PhD and inform policies on public health. Once the pandemic finally settles, we will face a massive backlog of work in both chronic as well as communicable diseases. It is a crucial time for training knowledgeable public health practitioners and epidemiologists to address these emerging demands in public health.”