Want to study public health? Check the data behind the course, as evidence suggests the standards vary

Dr Kunal Patel 19 Nov 2019

Are you planning on studying public health or have you already had some formal training? If so, you may have to be careful as recent evidence suggests very few faculties are using evidence-based approaches when it comes to teaching.

A group of researchers from across the globe have recently published a scoping review looking at the teaching methods behind public health education and training.

After initially finding over 2000 papers linked to the topic, these were brought down to 86, based on key topics and quality. This number already shows a lack of research into the subject but interestingly the majority of these 86 papers were based in the USA, even though public health is taught across the world.

The authors further looked at the subjects taught, curricula, teaching and training methods, administration and evaluation of the courses themselves. Sadly, only 33 studies showed any real evaluation of a course being delivered. Others focused on digital learning and the results of specific teaching methods. In regard to online learning, it was seen that online methods were as effective as in-classroom teaching, an observation that the authors' state is consistent with meta-analyses on online learning.

Considering the number of people seeking public health education or training has grown, the lack of evidence showing the use of recognised teaching methods on these courses is alarming. As the authors state “the total number of evaluation studies pales in comparison with the educational offerings”.

The breadth a scoping review provides as opposed to a systematic review has allowed the researchers to also identify a clear issue being the barriers to the evaluation itself, as no one wants a poor evaluation of their course. Additionally, methods to aid with educational evaluation are scarce.

Nevertheless, public health is a subject that should not be compromised by poor teaching methods and evaluation. This data should act as a wake-up call to all those involved in the teaching of the subject but also those who have received it or wish to be taught.