The Collaborative Specialization in

Public Health Policy


155 College Street, Ste 530
Toronto ON M5T 3M7


Many public health scares (COVID-19, SARS, the tainted blood scandal, listeria outbreak) and on-going threats to the public’s health (tobacco use, obesity, physical inactivity) highlight the need for effective public health policy and the central role of public policy in building public health capacity and improving population health.

What is Public Health Policy?

Public health policy, the backbone of public health, is policy related to public health issues. Substantively, public health policy addresses a broad range of issues, including but not limited to:  

  • Policies for infectious and chronic disease prevention and control
  • Food security and food policy
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Environmental health policy
  • Physical activity policy
  • Substance abuse and harm reduction policy
  • Gambling policy
  • Occupational health policy

Public health policy includes a wide array of legislative and regulatory interventions, administrative practices, financing and funding decisions, and various forms of soft law operating at all levels of government, affecting multiple settings, jurisdictions and sectors of activity.

Public health policy is different than health policy, which focuses on issues of health services and health care delivery.

Why Offer a Collaborative Specialization in Public Health Policy?

In Canada, the need for professionals trained specifically in public health policy has been identified as a top priority by government agencies at all levels. The Collaborative Specialization in Public Health Policy fills this niche, providing an exciting opportunity to become intellectually and actively involved in the complex tasks demanded by public health policymaking including: policy change, policy analysis, policy assessment, and policy structures and planning. This training program promotes an active, productive and collaborative multidisciplinary community of researchers, trainees, policymakers, educators and practitioners that works and learns together to address – from a policy perspective – the key issues compromising the public’s health at local, regional, national and global levels.

Please see How to Apply for application guidelines, dates and forms.


The goal of my research program in social epidemiology is to elucidate the impact of policies and interventions on reducing health inequities. As a CIHR Public Health Policy Fellow, I received advanced training in the theory, analysis and evaluation of public health policies. Particularly of interest for my research is how different types of evidence are used in public health policy decision-making. Participation in the Strategic Training Program in Public Health Policy provided me with valuable skills to compliment my expertise in epidemiology. This experience was instrumental to the development of my interest in applied public health research, a path that led me to my current position as a Scientist at Public Health Ontario.

My advice to current Fellows is to take advantage of the rich resources available to you through this unique collaborative environment. This includes becoming active in planning and participating in the program components to tailor these experiences to meet your learning goals. Most important is to engage with the other Fellows and interact with the program Mentors, who are leading researchers and policy experts in the field of public health policy.

Brendan Smith
Public Health Ontario

As a health researcher at the London School of Economics, I participate in a number of activities related the economic assessment of health and social care policies. I feel privileged to be in a position where I provide specialist commentary on past, present and future health interventions for many domestic and international governments and health organizations. In addition to my research activities, I thoroughly enjoy conveying my fascination with the world of health care and economics through lectures, conferences and events.
The training program was a truly enriching experience, which enabled me to be a more confident and well-rounded health researcher. In addition, it introduced me to many peers and mentors, who continue to be a source of collaboration and support. The training and development offered by the collaborative was immediately relevant upon graduation, and provided me with a substantial toolkit when entering the workforce. The coursework related to policy approaches, and modules on the economic evaluation of public health interventions, were of such interest they guided many of my subsequent career choices.

Suggestions for new and current students in the Collaborative Program:
Attend every event, lecture, workshop and module available. Actively engage with the built-in network of peers and mentors, and find at least one area of public health to immerse and specialize in.

Matt Townsend
PhD Candidate in Health Economics
London School of Economics

Laura RosellaKnowledge-to-Action Processes and Macro-Level Decision-Making:
20 Minutes with Dr. Laura Rosella

Dr. Laura Rosella is currently a Scientist at Public Health Ontario, and an Assistant Professor in Epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. As a population health researcher, she focuses on ways in which we can inform the prevention of chronic diseases and their risk factors.

Rosella was accepted into the 2009-2010 CIHR Strategic Training Program in Public Health Policy as a post-doctoral fellow in Epidemiology. Her research looked at how high impact, macro-level decisions are made during a pandemic. Such decisions are typically made very quickly, and under immense pressure. For instance: who do we vaccinate first in the midst of a global infectious disease? Rosella’s timing could not have been better: she undertook her research during the global outbreak and aftermath of the H1N1 influenza virus, which reached the height of its pandemic in 2009. “People wanted to talk. They wanted to share their experiences.” Rosella went on to secure 40 key informant interviews with public health and healthcare clinicians and practitioners across Canada who were directly involved with containing the outbreak.

The Strategic Training program was instrumental for Rosella in developing an understanding of what public health policy is: “I still work in public health policy. The Training Program gave me the toolkit to implement policy, as well as access to a system level of public health policy.” Rosella’s study bred a new area of research around knowledge-to-action processes, and specifically how knowledge interfaces with policy. How can we package evidence and knowledge in a way that is amenable to policy?

For Rosella, the various components of the program offered great value: “The Institutes were extremely helpful, due to the large network of people that you can connect with. The Rounds really showcase the interdisciplinary nature of the program. They lend the opportunity to network with various disciplines and with mentors.”

Does Dr. Rosella have any suggestions or advice for new students? “Embrace everything that the program has to offer,” she says. “I learned a whole new language that I had never spoken before, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t completed the program.”

Links to Public Health Policy Rounds Webinars 2020-21

Evidence, Information and Determination Underlying Public Health Policy and Practice for Covid-19 Response
November 13, 2020
Speaker: John McLaughlin

Immunization Policymaking and Measles
October 16, 2020
Speaker: Natasha Crowcroft

COVID-19: Science to Policy
September 28, 2020
Speaker: Vivek Goel