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My Public Health Master’s – Year One

I’ve had more questions about my Master’s in Public Health recently and on a poll this week 100% of those who answered wanted a blog on the modules I’ve taken so far, so here we go! If you’d like an overview of why and where I’m studying I recommend you check out the blog I did on this.

Just to say this is not going to reflect every MPH out there, I advise you do your research and look into the structure of any degree programme before applying. This solely representative of the modules I have undertaken during my course thus far at the University of Edinburgh. This course does change in line of new guidance and upon review by the course organisers, so again, please look into the course if you are interested as the structure of the degree often does change.

I hope this can be a source of inspiration for anyone interested in undertaking a master’s in public health as a representative sample of what a journey through this degree can offer.

I will try as much as possible to succinctly describe each module. In general, course material and assignments include recorded lectures with transcripts, essential and optional reading (textbooks and scientific literature), discussion boards to interact with peers and engage with tutors (as well as provide a place for queries to be answered), write blogs to record learning and progression of ideas, formative assignments and summative essays. Other summative tasks have involved collaborating with peers to provide presentations with recorded voiceovers and MCQ tests.

In the first year, all modules were compulsory to provide a strong foundation for further study.



This was my first module and experience studying online.

The Wold Health Organization defines health promotion as:

“the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions.”

Health promotion draws on ideas from psychology, epidemiology, sociology, anthropology, education and other disciplines to understand how the global health of populations can be maintained and strengthened

Course overview:

The aim of the course was to provide students with understanding of the theoretical and empirical basis of health promotion, and equip them with the conceptual and practical skills to plan and evaluate health promotion policies and programmes.

Learning objectives:

  • Demonstrate a critical awareness of key principles, perspectives, models and theories which shape current health promotion policy and practice, and an understanding of the factors which contribute to lifestyle choices and health behaviours.
  • Critically apply a framework to plan and evaluate health promotion programmes and activities in a specific context


  • Week 1: Introduction to health promotion
  • Week 2: Determinants of health actions and health promotion planning
  • Week 3: Health promotion planning case study – Tobacco and health
  • Week 4: Health promotion evaluation
  • Week 5: Community health promotion

For this module the final essay was about choosing a health issue amenable to a health promotion intervention and discussing what would be involved in developing this programme utilising models we learned about during the module.

I chose to write about tackling childhood obesity in New Zealand.



Course overview:

The aim of this course was to equip me with a critical understanding of how the health of the world’s population has changed over time, how and why it might change in future and what might be done to influence these trajectories. The course looked at key global health challenges from a public health perspective, focusing on the socio-economic and environmental causes and consequences of health and disease in different global contexts.

Learning outcomes:

  • Have a critical awareness of the socio-economic, biological and environmental causes and consequences of disease in different global contexts and of key ideas that have shaped approaches to tackling these problems over recent decades
  • Be able to critically apply selected public health methodologies and approaches to measure and analyse global health problems

Topics covered were:

  • What is public health?
  • Health inequity
  • Public health in a global context
  • Globalisation and public health
  • Climate change and public health


The course handbook quoted Sir David King:

“Climate change is the biggest challenge that our civilisation has ever had to face up to”.

I studied global health impacts of climate change – and what action can be taken to mitigate these. Changes to our global climate are already having direct and indirect impacts on health – impacts that are predicted to increase and intensify over coming decades (Watts et al, 2016).

Specific learning outcomes relating to climate change and the impact on global health were to:

  • Identify direct and indirect impacts of climate change on global health
  • Identify measures needed to limit these negative impacts
  • Identify barriers to the adoption of these measures and strategies to overcome these barriers.

The assignment for this module was to write an essay which critically explored the impact of climate change on an aspect of public health. I wrote an essay questioning if the rising incidence of Lyme disease in the UK was an impact of climate change and how can this rise could be managed to alleviate an associated health burden.



This course was different to anything I’ve done before, more economics and how different health care systems across the world are structured. It was run by a different department within the university from the School of Social and Political Science. It was also a longer course at 10 weeks.

Course objectives:

  • A critical understanding of the strengths and limitations of economic approaches to health policy.
  • An ability to evaluate the various models of health system governance, with a particular focus on the evaluation of market vs. planned approaches.
  • An ability to evaluate the organisation and delivery of health systems, with a focus on human/ pharmaceutical resources and use of information.
  • An ability to identify and evaluate methods by which resources are allocated or channelled to individual and institutional providers of health services.
  • Demonstrating the analytical skills required to present, communicate and debate issues in health systems and health policy from an informed point of view.
  • An ability to analyse the concepts of economic and fiscal sustainability, in contexts of socio-economic/ demographic change and resource constraint.

Topics covered were:

  • Systems and policies
  • Universal health coverage
  • Incentives
  • Meeting population healthcare demand and need
  • Drivers of expenditure growth

The summative assignment for this module was in part created from blogs we had written across the course, and from a final essay from a selection of possible essay questions. For the latter, I wrote about to what extent the rise of health care spending could be explained by changing demographics, specifically population ageing.



This was again a longer, 10 week course.

This course introduced the fundamentals of epidemiology, providing students with an understanding of different epidemiological concepts and approaches, and essential statistical skills, for investigating global and public health problems.

Learning outcomes:

  • Describe a range of epidemiological study designs and identify their strengths and weaknesses
  • Critically appraise epidemiological studies, evaluating the role of chance, bias and confounding in order to make an informed judgement about the trustworthiness of study findings.
  • Define key statistical terms and correctly interpret the statistical results of epidemiological studies
  • Apply epidemiological and statistical concepts to design an epidemiological study and analysis plan.

Topic covered:

  • What is epidemiology?
  • Introduction to courses of error in epidemiology
  • Descriptive tools for measuring health and disease
  • Ecological studies
  • Cross-sectional studies
  • Cohort studies
  • Case-control studies
  • Causality and randomised control trials
  • Systematic reviews and meta-analysis
  • Bias and confounding

Again, the summative assignment for this module was split into 2 parts, both having elements of epidemiology & statistics. The first part was an online MCQ test, the second was an essay on a critical analysis of a specific paper we were assigned to analyse.


I hope this helps provide some insight into what you can expect to learn and topics you might cover in a master’s in public health. I’ll write another blog about my experience in year 2, with more core and some options modules, and later one about my third year (which I’m currently in!).

Emma x

1 thought on “My Public Health Master’s – Year One”

  1. Wow very interested in your masters blog because I’m planning on applying to commence this September. Thank you for an informative blog. I’ll keep an eye on Year 2/3.
    All the best in your completion.

    Gabs x


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