At Public Health U, we want our courses to provide the competencies to improve the health of populations. We want to give people the skills to implement programs and be action-oriented and evidence-based. We also stress the importance of collaboration and the use of open educational resources and that we are doing this at the ‘train the trainers’ level.
The dissertation is designed to test the ability of the students to reflect on these objectives and apply the skills they have learned. This part of the course will provide the student with a planned, approved, supervised, and assessed public health practice opportunity that involves: the integration of professional knowledge; designing and application of methods to examine one or more public health problems/issues; application of data/evidence collection, analysis, and interpretation, and professional communication skills; and providing evidence-based conclusions and recommendations for policy, planning, practice, or research in the selected area.
Competencies (Learning Outcomes) to be Gained from the Dissertation
- Demonstration of the ability to apply prior learning in identifying a significant public health issue facing the community.
- Development of a systematic understanding of the methods for performing a systematic review of the literature. The ability to critically analyze the knowledge gaps and to design a potential project based on the identified problem.
- The ability to synthesize and reflect on the knowledge gained from experience throughout the program.
The Dissertation should be in the following stages:
- Identification of a public health problem: Identify an important health problem for the population in the student setting (this would require some preliminary investigation of the literature and discussions with the dissertation supervisor). This part should conclude with the identification of the aspect which will be studied further (prevalence/causes/healthcare/etc.).
- A systematic review of the literature: Once the student has decided on the specific problem to be studied further, the next step is to develop a research question appropriate for a systematic review. Next, develop a search strategy, conduct a literature search and screen and sort citations, read and critically review the literature, and write the literature review. This process should result in the identification of a specific question to pursue.
- Development of a potential study protocol: Develop a project/study plan for using skills/knowledge learned in the course to explore/address the specific question that was identified above. The plan should start with the study design and include an estimate of resources and time required to complete the project as well as predict obstacles, problems, or shortcomings. The nature of the course does not allow for the completion of the project, but the student should demonstrate that the plan is appropriate and feasible.
- Application of knowledge and skills: Demonstrate how the results of the project the student plans to carry out might be used to influence health policy in the student setting, how the student plans to use the knowledge gained in the course in professional practice, research plans, and how the student plans to share the learning from the course so that the expertise and experience gained from the program can help others.
The process is designed for each part to build on the previous one. The student develops ideas from a broad area of interest, adjusts the research question based on the literature review, and designs a research project. In this way, the student will develop the discipline of systematic inquiry – by going from a broad overview to a detailed question, demonstrating an understanding of the evidence at each stage by looking at relevant literature, and demonstrating why a particular question was chosen and how it will be answered. This is the hallmark of a good public health specialist.
Although we use the term ‘report’ for student submissions and generally expect them to be text-based, we urge students to consider adding diagrams or PowerPoint slides when relevant. The student should also pay close attention to technical editing with clear labeling of the various sections of reports, page numbering, and adding their name and date to each submission. There is further guidance on writing below and on the website.
Here is an example of how this would work in practice
- The student identifies high Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) as an important public health problem.
- The student examines the problem of MMR- how high, what are potential causes and solutions, etc.; thus, the high MMR could be due to lack of service, affordability, lack of trained professionals or not practicing safe care, poor nutrition, and so on. The student would write a short essay (10 marks) to demonstrate a holistic understanding of the problem and, based on that, suggest one particular area of the problem that they wish to develop further. They would then frame a question for a systematic literature review to be performed later.
- The student then undertakes a rigorous systematic literature review and adapts their research question accordingly. The assignment is a systematic literature review (40 marks) ending with a research question for the research protocol.
- Next, the student methodologically designs the study for the question identified above. The assignment is a research protocol (40 marks).
Knowledge of the existing evidence base is a theme that runs throughout the dissertation, whereby students are asked to constantly refer to the relevant literature for each part of the dissertation. Although students will perform a proper systematic review, they should learn the discipline of continually checking emerging literature as new evidence becomes available, which may have implications.
This is important since one major learning from the dissertation is recognizing the need to learn what is already known and not rush into following your instinct only – the hallmark of a good public health specialist is a systematic inquiry. Try and learn more holistically first before getting into specifics. Do not rush into excluding or including particular studies without good reasons as this may limit your thinking. Students may find the idea of using SMART criteria – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria
– progressively for each stage of the dissertation helpful.
Each student will be assigned an academic supervisor and will be enrolled in a facilitated discussion forum with other students enrolled in the dissertation module. However, the primary support is the academic supervisor, and regular contact is essential. The IT support team will contact students to remind them of assignment dates.
Assignments: There are four assignments. Students must pass each assignment before they can progress to the next stage of the Dissertation. The Dissertation should be from nine to ten thousand words. Some assignments, such as assignments one and four, are around one thousand words, while assignments two and three may be around four thousand words each.
Prerequisites for the Dissertation
Successful completion of eight modules, without any fails, is required (This includes compulsory modules).