Name: Andre Blasutig
Born: North York, Ontario, Canada
Profession: Public Health Inspection
Public Health Inspectors are involved in disease control, food safety, pollution control, pesticide control, and many more issues that concern public health.
What is a Public Health Inspector?
A Public Health Inspector is a person who performs work as mandated by provincial health regulations and plays a major role as the field representative for the Medical Officer of Health. We liaise and work in partnership with the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and the Environment, local municipalities, businesses, community groups and agencies as well as individual members of the community.
These regulations mandate the safety of the public's food and water suppl, the prevention of rabies infections, and preventing the spread of communicable diseases. A detailed understanding of microbiology, risk assessment, environmental science and technology, food science, as well as skills and knowledge related to the tracking and control of communicable disease and the investigation and enforcement of legislation related to public health and the environment is required.
What is a typical day as a Public Health Inspector like?
Well, a typical day for a PHI most always starts in the office. We have to check our phone messages, e-mails, and our folder for any new reports, complaints, licensing approvals, etc. Mixed in with this, depending on the health unit you work for, is synchronizing your computer inspection program with the server. The Health Unit I work for has a computer program that has replaced paper inspection forms and inspections can be completed digitally. Every morning, I need to synchronize my computer with the server in order to get the latest reports. This allows our inspection division to be up to date with the most current reports. Once all these items have been taken care of, excluding any planned or impromptu meetings, you can leave the office and begin your inspections. You will have many options as to how you will fill your day. Routine work, i.e., food premise inspections, animal bite investigations, complaint investigations, can fill your day either all at once or individually. An inspection of a restaurant may take anywhere from 1 hour to half a day, depending on what you encounter. In a worst case scenario, you are issuing tickets, closure orders, and/or condemning food. Investigating animal bites and health hazard complaints can also be very time consuming, depending on how complex they are. You may not necessarily be visiting only one address, you may have to do some "detective" work in order to track down the proper information. I hope by now you can see that a PHI's day can be very busy or pretty straight forward. Mixed into all of this is the driving time, out of office paper/computer work, and other miscellaneous time consuming activities that will arise during the day. You will not be bored doing this job: there will always be something new to test your Public Health knowledge.
What is the last movie you saw? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
3:10 to Yuma. 2 thumbs up.
What's your zodiac sign?
Taurus. I am stubborn but loyal and have been told that I have a good sense of humour.
Did you always want to be a Public Health Inspector?
I can't say I knew what a Public Health Inspector was back in high school. Many reading this now may find it hard to believe but information was not at your fingertips. Through the internet, allowing access to websites such as this, a student can become very well informed about choosing a career path. Also, current events within the ten years since I started working has brought quite a bit of attention to this profession. The public is now more aware than ever of what condition a restaurant should be in and how food is handled. This has created a high public interest in where our food comes from, how it is prepared, and what is being done to prevent the spread of disease via food. I sincerely stumbled upon this career and I wouldn't change a thing. Coming out of high school, I knew I wanted to work in a science related field, but wasn't sure to what degree. This turned out to be a good compromise in satisfying my need for a science-inclined career and my other half of which needed to be out and about within the community.
You just won a million dollars. What's the first thing you'd do?
I would definitely invest most of it to ensure that I can retire comfortably and spend some of it for a vacation for my family. I would ensure that my immediate family would be able to live comfortably and help them out in any way.
How are Health Inspectors involved in controlling emerging threats?
We are an integral part of the equation because within the front lines of Public Health, there is a need for professionals who can inform the community on every aspect of the disease in question. We uphold and enforce government laws to prevent further spread of the disease, educate the public on how to control its spread, and perform routine inspections and tests to ensure it is not spreading. Examples of diseases that fall within this category are the West Nile Virus, Avian Flu, SARS, and most recently, the Rabies Virus.
Although rabies has been around for hundreds of years and within developed countries - it isn't as widespread and as prominent as in third world countries - it still threatens people's lives. This was never more evident than just last month, Jan 2008, when it became apparent that the public was exposed to the virus from a puppy being sold at a flea market in Toronto. People and other puppies who were in close proximity to it were required to be tracked down and determined whether or not they had acquired the virus. Many Public Health staff from different departments and regions within Southern Ontario were involved with the investigations.
What's your motto?
Treat others as you would have them treat you.
Where did you go to university?
Ryerson Polytechnic University.
How did you decide where to go?
It was a matter of being accepted into a specific program. What I mean is that I had applied to York and U of T as well, but only to the general science stream. Ryerson offered me the opportunity to enroll in a specific program. I did want to stay within Toronto in order to stay close to friends and family.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
All the sciences, along with statistical math. There were never really any courses that taught you how to deal with people through negotiation or conflict resolution. I feel that these skills are just as important as any of the science courses. If you have the opportunity, take a public speaking course in order to prepare yourself for possibly being in the public spotlight. Although these courses are offered at Ryerson, it doesn't hurt to be prepared.
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished university?
The extra training would be the practicum that is required to be done for a period of 12 weeks with a Health Unit. You must complete this along with submitting reports and then successfully pass an oral examination. All these components are governed by the professional organization known as the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors, or CIPHI. This is a national organization, with provincial branches, that certifies Public Health Inspectors within Canada. Anyone who works as a PHI must be first certified. They also represent the vested interests of all PHI's through participating in committees, conferences, and various government decision making processes. Along with this, depending on the Health Unit, many PHI's work in conjunction with other professional organizations, community groups, and local, provincial, and federal government groups in order to keep up-to-date with the ever changing landscape.
What's your biggest pet peeve?
People not showing the common courtesy of saying "Thank-you" or "Please".
What is the coolest part of your job?
The way things just happen and you must react quickly. It can be something as easy as walking into a variety store and finding food being prepared, cooked, and being offered for sale, all without Health Department approval, or as complex as having to investigate a disease outbreak or food poisoning involving a large amount of people. Those scenarios all come with many things one must consider before proceeding. Getting to meet many different people day to day, both on a professional and public level, allows you to expand your knowledge and contact list. You just never know when you might run into someone again.
What's the worst part of your job?
The worst part is the time when you think things are going smoothly and something unexpectedly pops up. Again, walking into a restaurant and discovering many infractions on a day when you are juggling ten other issues such as complaints, animal biting incidents, closure orders, and court dates, does complicate things. This is when instinct takes over and what you learned and experienced in the past kicks in.
Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
Well, I did once mail the wrong letter to someone. It was supposed to be a notice for the confinement of a dog and instead it was an information letter describing what salmonella is. Needless to say, I received a phone call from the person a few days later and did explain the mistake. They were very understanding and thought nothing of it.
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
I would recommend that when taking the program, you keep your options open for future employment. Upon graduation, you will have many job options. Public Health Inspection has become a very rewarding career and, due to the increase in public awareness, it has become key for the food in dustry to work with us. More and more companies have internal health inspectors that inspect their own restaurants for public health standards. We, as Public Health Inspectors, work in conjunction with these companies to ensure public safety. Public Health Inspection has become a very diverse field and this has allowed many more job opportunities to arise for graduates. My best advice would be to not limit yourself and pursue all avenues.
What is a typical salary range for a Public Health Inspector?
That depends on the local Health Unit you work for. Salaries are determined by local government and/or union negotiations, and can vary from $45,000-$65,000 per year.
What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?
Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors
Ontario Public Health Association
Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Also, any local municipalities health website
Toronto Public Health
Region of Peel Public Health