Masters in Public Health at Imperial | An Overview

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I've recently received quite a few emails and DMs asking about Public Health, what does it entail, the difficulty, and about Imperial as a university in general.  Rather than answering everyone individually, I figured it would be most fruitful if I did a blogpost describing my experience overall.  If you are new, welcome!  In the past I did a walkthrough of second term, and only one post about first term, during my MPh and here are the respective links: 









Studying at Imperial

As Shakespeare once said, 'What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'  Regardless of what university you attend, it is up to you to gain the ultimate experience.  It is what you take from it; which no one can take from you, irrespective of the university.  I've had readers message me absolutely distraught that they were rejected from Imperial.  Yes it is an excellent university, but it isn't the only excellent university by far.  There are many strong Public/Global Health courses that one can attend.  I was rejected from King's and London School of Tropical Medicine and though I was upset, I couldn't be happier now.  Anyone can bear the fruits of their labour with hard work.  Opportunities are open to everyone as long as you know where to look.  On top of that, the charts state that Imperial is fourth after LSE, Cambridge, and Warwick for MPh courses so choose the university based on the modules and location.

Part of why I wanted to study at Imperial was simply to enjoy the London experience.  As a city girl, this was a dream.  Memories of walking through Hyde park to lectures, driving past the London Eye, walking along the Thames never escape me.  If you aren't a city person, bare this in mind because the hustle and bustle never stops.  Friends of mine claim that it was difficult to 'switch off' so many of them travelled to their home towns in order to study effectively for exams or complete coursework.  Personally, this was less of a struggle for myself because the adrenaline rush of a metropolitan lifestyle acted as motivation. 

I was based at St. Marys near Paddington Station and lived in Little Venice.  It was a gorgeous little area with stunning architecture and asian store galore alongside being situated within walking distance to Oxford Circus.  I had a ten minute walk into university for the most of Term 1 and Term 2 was a mix between St Marys, South Kensington (30-40 minute walk from my house), and occasionally Hammersmith or Charing Cross Hospital which required the tube.  For Term 3, I was predominantly working from home with meetings weekly at St Marys.  

In my experience, Imperial do expect innovation and creative thinking.  The more originality in your courseworks, written pieces, research, etc. the more likely you are to do well.  All of your knowledge is applied; thus, it sticks like glue.  I find myself constantly using my skills from my degree in medical school. 

Nonetheless, they actively trained the public health students to think in this manner.  This correlates with the way the degree classification is set up: your maximum classification is the grade of your dissertation.  For example, if you averaged a distinction (70%+) in all your modules but got 65% (merit) or 55% (pass), then you can only score a merit or pass respectively despite your modules.  Unlike other universities or my undergraduate which was the overall percentage equals overall classification.  In addition, if you are only allowed to get less than 70% or 60% in two modules in order to still be able to get a distinction or merit which can prove difficult in Public Health.  Public health is very multidisciplinary with courses ranging from statistics and coding to economics and anthropology.  Some students may excel in statistics but conceptual or theoretical subjects such as anthropology or politics.   There is more information on the Imperial Website regarding their grading system as I realise this could be poorly explained. 

Term 1

Term one consisted of the following subjects:


  • Introduction to Statistics (using STATA/R)
  • Foundations of Public Health  
  • Introduction to Epidemiology
  • Disease Masterclass
  • Health Economics
Statistics
As the name suggests, this subject encompassed statistics from a data analyse.  Not only do you learn the theory, but we utilise a software (STATA for the MPh and R for MSc Epidemiology course) and real-life data which we work through in practical sessions on the computers.  If you have a Mac, then using the free version of STATA provided by the university will prove difficult so you may have to purchase it for one year.  This aided my learning significantly as I didn't need to run Windows to launch the programme.  

Assessments: two exams. 
The first exam was 20% and assessed our use of STATA on the computer.  We were given data to analyse and we had to answer questions based on what were able to find out using STATA.  This required knowledge of coding and interpretation (P values, Confidence Intervals, etc.).  This exam was in late November/December.  I revised for this by revising the practice material and familiarising myself with codes.  I even produced a 'deck of codes' on powerpoint to remember specific parameters.  

The second exam was our final (80%) which in late January.  It was a paper based exam that tested our theory and application of statistics.  You do not need to search beyond the lecture and practical material in order to do well.  We were given two practice papers which were a fair representation of what to expect on the real test.  

Public Health
Unsurprisingly, this was one of my favourite modules.   This highlighted the core values of public health, how to produce project implementation documents, policy change, conduct research in a population, the logistics and stakeholders in projects, as well as an insight to analysis and utilisation of big data.  There were many frameworks involved to suggest methods of behaviour change, improve diagnostics, etc.  It allowed one to experience the managerial and admin side to public health at a local and approachable level.  In addition, we watched an episode of Crisis Command which was certainly the highlight. 

Assessment: One piece of coursework.  

The coursework entailed producing an intervention that would solve a specific issue in any country of your choosing and the steps involved.  Although it seems straight forward, it is a 4000 word 'mini thesis' some would say.  The title of mine was 'Sanchaar: A new intervention to increase infant immunisation coverage using mobile health technology among mothers in rural Hardoi City, Uttar Pradesh, India.'  and my coursework discussed the background, rationale, existing interventions, implementation,  steps in monitoring, and sustainability of the project.   This was the most realistic piece of work I've produced which has given me various skills in data analysis, how to begin and implement a research project, and the steps involved before beginning an intervention.  

Epidemiology
This module was the study of studies: cross-sectional, retrospective, case reports, randomised control trials, etc.  You name it.  We learnt it.  Not only did we gain knowledge of how to conduct trials but what type of information we can extract from them (hazard risk, odds ratio, risk ratio, ..) as not all studies provide information that can satisfy all types of statistical analysis.  On top of this, the module informed us of various types of biases and effect modifiers which is vital when it comes to critical appraisal of research papers and conducting your own research during term 3.  

Assessment: two exams. 

The first exam (10%) was 20 minutes - yes you read that right.  It was a twenty minute long exam which involved answering questions about calculations, biases, and extracting data for a research paper.  By this logic, it shouldn't take you longer than 20 minutes to completely dissect a paper. 

Exam two (90%) was a purely paper based exam similar to statistics.  We had two practice papers which, again, were a fair representation of the real test.  

Disease Masterclass
I must say this is the coolest module title ever.  Disease masterclass is the epidemiology of various diseases such as cardiovascular, dementia, tuberculosis, infectious, and cancer for example.  In addition, we had lectures on optimising current data for change and policy implementation, use of vaccines in respiratory diseases, inequality, and social determinants of health.  Think of 'Foundations of Public Health' and 'Epidemiology' as the trunk, and disease masterclass forms the branches of the MPh tree.  It put in action all that was learnt in the other modules so it tied in well with the rest of the course. 

Assessment: one piece of coursework. 

The coursework entailed critically appraising a research paper (a choice from two).  Last time I checked, this was subject to change and the module will be re-done as it was the first year it was run during 2017/2018. I will do a separate blogpost on how to write academic papers and critically appraise a research paper.  

Health Economics
This is in my top three of favourite modules.  I never fully understood politics or economics.  It was a subject matter that went over my head so I couldn't engage properly in conversation regarding the topic as I had nothing to contribute.  Personally, I didn't know where to start to gain knowledge about health economics.  Now, I feel more confident discussing economics and policy.  It highlighted economy from a general point of view whilst narrowing down into its use in medicine and healthcare.  We learnt about how the government funds the NHS, criteria in determining the funding of drugs or innovations, and private vs public health care.  

Assessment: One coursework and one exam. 

The coursework was an economic evaluation of a specific procedure, technique, or tool that takes place in the context of the NHS. My project was the 'Cost utility analysis of planned vaginal delivery and elective caesarean section for women aged over 40 in England'.  Very specific.  The skills I developed was producing a decision tree which is a very elaborate diagram that illustrates everything that could go wrong and end up costing the NHS money, sensitivity analysis, the importance of considering quality adjusted life years (QALYs) or Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) when making economic decisions.  

The exam was a multiple choice exam of 50 questions.  This looked at the theoretical side of microeconomics rather than application though it required a thorough understanding of fundaments and basics in the subject.



Term 2: 

This is where you can pick your stream: Global Health or Health Services.  I decided to pick Global Health because I was intrigued by the Global Health Innovations model and always desired to work on a larger scale in various countries bar my own.

  • Global Health Challenges and Governance
  • Global Health Innovation
  • Health Systems Development  - Optional 
  • Contemporary topics in International Health Policy - Optional 
Other optional units that one can pick is available on the Imperial Website here

Global Health Challenges and Governance
As the title suggests, this subject discussed the governance within global health such as stakeholders, services, and ideas involved.  It is very difficult to explain this module in words given that it was very diverse within itself.  Each lecture looked at a topic such as nutrition, housing, hygiene, transport, climate change, conflict etc. and the inequalities, inequity, health determinants, and how to improve health outcomes.  

Assessment: This module is purely coursework.

-Self reflective weekly video blogs (2): This involved producing a video in whatever way you wish.  Many of my peers produced a powerpoint video similar to a lecture-style recording whereas I preferred speaking into the camera with a whiteboard to explain and elaborate my points.  I discussed diet fads (gluten-free, and senna tea) and impact on nutritional health of the population, and climate change (the Paris Agreement Act as this was topical at the time) but you can choose any topic that is relates to the lectures.  

-One case study of 1000 words:  This was a very mini version of the public health intervention coursework.  However, you will be given a scenario that needs to be improved rather than thinking of one from the ground up yourself. 

-One written article of 500 words: You can choose from a list the type of article you wish to write.  The one I had picked was addressing the link between obesity and depression/anxiety for a magazine.  Thus, this required you to adjust your literary language to one that the general public could understand as this is an important concept in public health.  Many scientists are unable to explain the issue, yet we continue to blame the population for their lack of understanding.  The use of lay mans terms is vital in public health. 

Global Health Innovation
Of everything I have studied in the last 23 years, this continues to be my favourite by miles.  Global health Innovations is as it says on the tin - innovations or inventions that have taken place in global health.  Not only does it talk about existing inventions but the steps involved in creating one.  The overlap with design and technology with policy is what made this enticing.  It concentrated on low and middle income countries though topics such as 'reverse innovation' (technology developed in lower countries first, before being utilised in richer countries) were met and their especial importance in the age of the NHS.  This module overlapped with Global Health Challenges and Governance which enables students to achieve to big picture with regards to Global Health challenges, potential solutions, and how to implement them.  

Assessment:  This module is purely coursework.

-'Minute of Madness' (10%) - if you thought the 20 minute epidemiology exam was short, ten percent of our grade was assessed through a one minute elevator pitch which required us to sell an existing innovation of our choice. 

-Innovation Sandbox Group Presentation (45%) - a presentation in a group setting about an existing innovation, discussing its relevance, importance, and unmet need.  This required overlap with the global health governance module.  

-Case study of 500 words (45%) - a further coursework on an innovation of your choosing which can be the same as your elevator pitch. 

Health Systems Development
Given that I chose the Global Health stream rather than the Health Systems Services (HSS), I wanted to pick a subject that tied in with so I can stick my hands in two pies.  We learnt about how a health system is developed, the governance, challenges, stakeholders, and policies involved during the process, how to ensure its sustainability, Universal Health Coverage, Health Impact Assessment, and optimising health service delivery for example.  Although very important, it was slightly drier than my other subjects though this was more practical and I use even now during my extra curricular projects.

Assessment: This was a purely coursework module.  

-Health Impact Assessment Presentation (30%) that discusses the affect on a population and ways to mitigate negative effects during situations such as building a new runway in an airport, fracking, or hosting the Olympic games.  

-A case study report answering questions about a specific scenario on how to improve a health system effectively.  (70%)

Contemporary topics in International Health Policy
This module provides an introduction to contemporary issues in health policy on a global scale.  The issues that were tackled were adjusted based on 'live issues' such as sustainability of health care systems, regulation of health care markets, trends in health care innovation, economic implication of global health challenges, social wellbeing, health and individual behaviour, social and environmental determinants of health, and roles of different stakeholders in health policy making to name a few.  We covered topics such as alcohol, drug use, obesity, nutrition, and environmental risks. 

Assessment: one coursework and one exam.  

Our coursework was a group work study that discussed a health policy we wish to implement and how we plan to go about doing so.  For example, the target of the policy, how we wish to design it, factors that may act as a hinderance, and key actors.  Our project was 'Out of sight, out of mind - A UK based policy to reduce youth exposure to smoking imagery'.  

The exam was three essay based questions regarding a health issue that was discussing in lectures and creating a way to implement a policy to target this problem, or the impact of existing policies such as Sugar Tax for example.  


Term 3: Research

I discussed my entire research journey in a series of posts linked below.   This will outline, in detail, the ups and downs of my project.  The main difficulty for me was self-teaching R programming.  This was the main obstacle which I will do an in-dept separate post regarding the resources I used to utilise R effectively and with confidence.






The way you choose your research project is by ranking your top three favourite choices and sending in an application (cover letter and CV) to the supervisor explaining why you wish to pursue that particular topic.  They will then decide, either on the basis of your paper application or via a face-to-face interview, if you are selected to work under their wing for your dissertation.  I was lucky enough to get my first choice in vaccinations given that my passion as been immunology and immunisation.  It linked well with my undergraduate thesis which touched on the importance of vaccination.  Some individuals on my course had the opportunity to travel for their thesis, work closely with hospitals, or analyse raw data provided to them, but a majority were systemic reviews or meta analysis of data.  

Overall Thoughts

In essence, I absolutely loved my masters.  I would re-live those moments again if I could.  Not only was the subject matter tailored to my interests, but you are working with students of various walks of life.  It is impressive how much you learn in the span of one year.  Never has information stuck like it had during my masters.  The various methods of assessing knowledge (vlogs- can you believe it?),  and the numerous courseworks you produce demonstrate a diverse range of skills that can be applied in various disciplines of work.  I hope this provided insight to one of the best years of my life.  May better years come!

Thank you for reading.  


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