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: integration of professional knowledge; designing and application of methods to examine one or more public health problem/issue; 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
1. Demonstrate the ability to apply prior learning in identifying a significant public health issue facing his/her community.
2. Develop a systematic understanding of the methods for performing a systematic review of the literature. Critically analyze the knowledge gaps and design a potential project based on
the identified problem.
3. Synthesize and reflect on the knowledge gained from experience throughout the program.
This Dissertation should be in the following stages:
1. Identify a Public Health problem: Identify an important health problem for your population (would require some preliminary investigation of the literature and discussions with your
supervisor). This part should conclude with the identification of which aspect you wish to study further (prevalence/causes/healthcare/etc.).
2. Systematically reviewing the literature: Once you have decided on the specific problem you wish to study further, 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. Reflecting on this
should enable you to come up with a specific question to pursue.
3. Developing a potential study protocol: Develop a project/study plan for using skills/knowledge learned in the course to explore/address the specific question you have 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 you to complete the project, but you should demonstrate that the plan is appropriate and feasible.
4. Application of knowledge and skills: Demonstrate how the results of the project you plan to carry out might be used to influence health policy in your setting, how you plan to use the
knowledge you have gained in the course in your professional practice, your research plans, and how you plan to share your learning so that your expertise and experience from the
program can help others.
The process is designed for each part to build on the previous one. You develop your ideas from a broad area of interest, adjust your research question based on the literature review, and design a research project. In this way, you will develop the discipline of systematic inquiry – by going from a broad overview to a detailed question, showing your understanding of the evidence at each stage by looking at relevant literature, and demonstrating why you choose a particular question and how you will answer it. This is the hallmark of a good public health specialist.
Although we use the term ‘report’ for your submission and generally expect them to be text-based, we urge you to consider adding diagrams or PowerPoint slides when relevant. You should also pay close attention to technical editing with clear labeling of the various sections of reports, page numbering, and putting your name and date on any submission. There is further guidance on writing below and on the website.
Here is an example of how this would work in practice
i. The student identifies high Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) as an important public health problem.
ii. 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
iii. 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.
iv. 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 you must constantly keep referring to the relevant literature for each part of the dissertation. Although you will perform a proper systematic review, you 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 since as soon as you do that, you will start limiting your thinking. You may find the idea of using SMART criteria - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria - for each stage of the dissertation, as you progress, 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, your primary support is your academic supervisor, and regular contact is essential. The IT support team will contact you to remind you of assignment dates.
Assignments: You will see that there are four assignments. You have to pass each assignment before you 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 Introduction to Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and six other modules is required. It is highly recommended that students also complete the Evidence-Based Practice module prior to the Dissertation.