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Diplomatosis

MSc in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Authors: Michael Holmes, Neeraj Bhala 

Publication date:  04 May 2011


Who’s it for?

Epidemiology is the basic science underpinning medical research and population health through the study of determinants of disease (such as smoking and social status) and patterns of illness (cardiovascular mortality and flu outbreaks). This course aims to equip clinical and non-clinical postgraduate students with the knowledge and skills to make valuable contributions to epidemiological research and population health.

When did you do it?

We are both clinicians undertaking academic training in the science of population health, so this is the best course to understand the underlying principles. The MSc contributed one year towards our “out of programme research,” which we took after completing medical college examinations. We are both funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), although similar funding is available from the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health Research, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has scholarships.

Why did you do it?

Our mentors had completed or teach on this course and highly recommended it. Epidemiology is a key discipline for understanding and improving population health with respect to communicable and non-communicable diseases. In addition to learning statistical and epidemiological methods, we gained a broader perspective on population health and on medical science. As well as providing valuable skills for planned academic studies (such as a PhD), this course has given us worthwhile training for other areas of clinical relevance (organising an outbreak investigation, for example).

How much effort did it entail?

The course is full time over a year, although it can also be taken part time over two years or through distance learning. The first term introduces epidemiology and statistical methods and also develops generic skills such as communication and contextualising public health issues. A number of optional modules are available: we highly recommend the clinical trials module, but there are others, including principles of social research.

After this term comes a series of modules in blocks of five weeks (some optional, others compulsory), each of which culminates in an assessment. Compulsory modules include study design, which gives invaluable experience of writing your own study grant proposal, and statistical methods, in which students are taught strategies of analysis and quickly assimilate principles and practice of detailed statistical techniques, including logistic regression. A wide range of optional modules suits all tastes, which in our year included epidemiology of communicable and of non-communicable diseases, disease control in the developed and developing world, and health policy.

Information acquired from all parts of the course is tested in the summer exams. Finally, each student has a summer project, which entails a choice of data analysis, systematic review, laboratory or field based research, synthesis of a study protocol, or a policy report, culminating in a 7000 to 10 000 word thesis submitted in September.

Most teaching consists of lectures from eminent figures in epidemiology, statistics, and public health, followed by group learning. A clearly laid out timetable helps cement concepts. Thorough lecture notes accompany each topic, and students who are taught on campus have access to excellent distance learning materials to enrich their learning experience. Each student is assigned a tutor who is responsible for their academic wellbeing. The course organisers and other London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine faculty members are very approachable.

Is there an exam?

There are two written exams, each three hours long, in June. Each student’s final mark depends on a combination of the coursework, the summer exam, and the summer project (MSc thesis).

How much does it cost?

The fee for UK students is £4240 for the full time course and £2120 each year for the two year part time course. For distance based learning the fee is £8320.

Top tip

The course ramps up in the new year. Clinical knowledge can be an asset and a hindrance.

Contact for further information

Further details, including the programme, entrance requirements, funding opportunities, and contact details of the course directors are available at www.lshtm.ac.uk/prospectus/masters/mse.html.

Was it worth it?

Yes, we highly recommend it.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Learn the importance of epidemiology in medical research

  • Tackle epidemiological principles (for example, what does confounding mean?)

  • Learn simple and advanced statistical techniques with teaching from leading statisticians

  • Meet a diverse group of UK and international students

Cons

  • It can be a culture shock adapting to student life again

  • You may experience a drop in salary (although you can potentially fit in on-call sessions)

  • You will never again see matters from just the individual patient’s point of view

  • Having to explain to non-medical friends what epidemiology is (no, it’s not dermatology)

Competing interests: None declared.

Michael Holmes MRC population health scientist research fellow  Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
Neeraj Bhala MRC population health scientist research fellow and specialist registrar in gastroenterology  Clinical Trial Service Unit, University of Oxford, Headington, UK

 mvholmes@gmail.com

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