Course Review

Concepts of epidemiology

Authors: Lorna M Gibson 

Publication date:  20 Jun 2012

Who’s it for?

This course is aimed at doctors, nurses, health researchers, and health policy makers who would like to get to grips with the basics of epidemiology to inform their clinical or research work. The content follows the chapter headings of Concepts of Epidemiology by Raj Bhopal, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, who runs the course.[1] It is most suited to people with an interest in public health, although participants from a variety of backgrounds attend the course. It has been designed to distil the essential elements of the masters degree in epidemiology into an intensive five day course for people who can’t dedicate a full year to study.

When did you do it?

During my academic foundation year 2, in December 2011.

Why did you do it?

I started working with data from a large cohort study, and I wanted to revisit some of the concepts I had covered in medical school to inform my research. I was also considering taking a year out later in my career to study for a masters degree in epidemiology, and I wanted to develop my knowledge and skills of study design for use in future projects.

How much effort did it entail?

No preparation or revision was necessary. The course is held over five days, Monday to Friday, in Edinburgh each winter. There are 13 lectures, covering topics such as populations, risk, bias, and presentation of data. The course is highly interactive, with small group work sessions after every lecture, and every participant is expected to chair sessions and contribute to discussions. As the week progresses the lectures become faster paced and cover more difficult concepts and involve some calculations.

Is there an exam?

There is no formal exam, although a mock exam is provided in the course materials for self assessment. Each participant receives a certificate of attendance from the University of Edinburgh, and the course is approved for 30 continuing professional development credits by the Royal College of Physicians.

What’s the fee?

The course costs £845, which includes copies of all lecture materials and group exercises and a copy of the current edition of Concepts of Epidemiology. Daily refreshments and lunches, a drinks reception held on the first evening, and dinner in a restaurant later in the week are included in the cost. Applicants who are based in Scotland can apply for an NHS Health Scotland bursary to cover the full cost of the course, and other discounts are available.

Top tip

People come from all over the world to attend the course, and they work in many different areas of healthcare. To get the most out of the course, participants should be open to the breadth and depth of knowledge and experiences of the other participants to appreciate how the concepts of epidemiology taught during the course can be applied to research and clinical practice.

Was it worth it?

Yes, definitely. I have now decided to study for a masters degree in epidemiology; I have made new contacts in a variety of research areas; and I was able to apply what I learnt in the course to my research work and now appreciate the contribution of epidemiology to my clinical practice. The tutors create a very welcoming, encouraging, enthusiastic, and supportive learning environment and are generous with their time and expertise. Throughout the course, lecture topics are linked to real examples from epidemiology, ranging from James Lind’s discovery of a cure for scurvy through to the recent H1N1 outbreaks in Scotland, making epidemiology engaging and relevant to clinicians.

Further information

The course can be booked through the CPD Unit-Office of Lifelong Learning, University of Edinburgh, 11 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LW, UK; tel +44 (0)131 651 1189/1180; fax +44 (0)131 651 1746; email; [Link] .


  1. Bhopal R. Concepts of epidemiology: an integrated introduction to the ideas, principles and methods of epidemiology. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Lorna M Gibson foundation year 2 doctor Division of Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK

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