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Unit information: Essentials of Public Health and Health Improvement in 2018/19

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Unit name Essentials of Public Health and Health Improvement
Unit code BRMSM0010
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Kipping
Open unit status Not open




School/department Bristol Medical School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences


This unit aims to introduce students to the ideas and principles underpinning public health and health improvement, including concepts of measuring disease burden, health inequalities, appropriate use of data to inform public health policy and practice, an introduction to screening programmes and the role of national and international public health organisations. The underpinning theories of health improvement, and the key models and interventions utilised at both the individual and population level with be studied, including behaviour change interventions, community development programmes and the use of mass and social media. It will outline the different levels of disease prevention, and will consider the relative merits of both universal and targeted interventions. The unit will also explore the types of evidence available when evaluating health improvement strategies, what kind of evidence is most useful, and the challenges in developing ‘evidence based practice’. Throughout the unit students will be reminded of the wider determinants of health and encouraged to think about the application of public health practice in other (health and non-health) disciplines. Further, the unit will give students an understanding of relevant ethical concepts in relation to health inequalities, public health and health improvement. Students will explore the developments and challenges facing the global public health community in order that they appreciate the immediate relevance of public health issues. Research-led teaching will use case studies in cancer, coronary heart disease and ageing to illustrate the ideas and principles. In-depth knowledge will be developed around particularly pertinent health improvement areas, such as mental health, obesity and substance use, including consideration of health needs across the life-course. This unit will provide essential context to the skills and knowledge gained throughout the rest of the course.

Intended learning outcomes

1. Describe the evolution of public health and challenges in public health today
2. Outline determinants of health at the population level, and trends in the global burden of disease
3. Demonstrate knowledge of data sources and processes for estimating burden of disease
4. Identify factors which may contribute to, or mitigate health inequalities in relation to public health interventions
5. Demonstrate knowledge of the bioethical themes and issues studied
6. Apply knowledge of the major theories and models of health improvement
7. Describe the wide range of interventions that might be used to improve health at both individual and population levels
8. Distinguish between universal and targeted interventions, and critique both approaches
9. Critically appraise the evidence that exists regarding health improvement interventions, and describe the features of a high-quality evaluation
10. Knowledge of and apply health improvement learning to areas of public health importance

Teaching details

10 weeks of campus-based lectures and workshops, plus an additional reading week and revision week. Where appropriate experts will be involved in lecture delivery, to provide expertise on key approaches or health topics. Workshops will provide the opportunity for students to explore lecture themes in more detail, and to apply them to examples through discussion and activities. Students will be expected to undertake self-directed learning alongside contact time. Self-directed study may include reading, accessing supplementary materials, critical analysis and completion of assignments.

• Large group lectures (20 hours)
• Small group seminars (30 hours)
• Self-directed learning (150 hours)

Assessment Details

Assessment for learning:
Ongoing checks on students’ understanding (e.g. using quizzes, peer-based question and answer, or e-voting using TurningPoint), will be incorporated into the teaching and learning material, to provide a means of testing progress as students advance through the unit (ILOs 1-10).

The formative assignment will comprise a group task, in which students work in teams to critique a public health or health improvement intervention. In teams, students will be asked to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the methods used, the theoretical basis, the target population and the evidence produced, and present their findings to the tutor group. Feedback would be provided to students in the same session (ILOs 3,4,6-10). The assessment will not contribute to the final unit mark. The aim of this formative assessment is for the student to gain feedback on their understanding of the material, which will assist them in their final assessed assignment.

The summative assignment will form 50% of the overall unit mark. It will be a 1,500 to 2000-word structured essay. Students will be required to design a health improvement intervention, provide the background to the health issue being addressed, and describe and justify the underlying theory, the methods, the target population and the evaluation. (ILOs 3,4,6-10).

Exam: The 1-hour exam contributes 50% of the total unit mark. The exam will include multiple-choice questions and short-answer questions. (ILOs 1-10)

An overall score of 50% will be required to pass the unit. The contribution of the coursework and exam components are equally weighted.

Reading and References

Reading and References*

There is no compulsory unit text book.

Recommended Reading:

  1. Donaldson, L.J, Rutter, P. (2017) Donaldsons' Essential Public Health. 4th ed. CRC Press.
  2. Guest, C., Ricciardi, W., Kawachi, I., Lang, I. (2013) Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice (Oxford Medical Handbooks). Oxford: OUP.
  3. Raffle, A., Gray, M. (2007). Screening Evidence and Practice. Oxford: OUP.
  4. Holland, S. (2014) Public Health Ethics, 2nd ed., Wiley.
  5. Green, J., Tones, K., Cross, R., Woodall, J. (2015) Health Promotion Planning and Strategies. Sage.
  6. Naidoo, J., Wills, J. (2016) Foundations of Health Promotion. 4th ed. Elsevier.

Further Reading

  1. Ben-Shlomo, Y., Brookes, S., Hickman, M. (2013) Lecture Notes: Epidemiology, Evidence-based Medicine and Public Health, 6th ed. Wiley-Blackwell.
  2. Michie, S., Richardson, M et al. (2013) The behavior change technique taxonomy (v1) of 93 hierarchically clustered techniques: building an international consensus for the reporting of behavior change interventions. Annals of Behavioural Medicine. 46(1): 81-95.
  3. McLaren, L., McIntyre, L., Kirkpatrick, S. (2010) Rose’s population strategy of prevention need not increase social inequalities in health’. International Journal of Epidemiology. 39: 372-377.
  4. Coggon, J. (2012) What Makes Health Public? A Critical Evaluation of Moral, Legal, and Political Claims in Public Health. Cambridge University Press.
  5. WHO Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion:
  6. HealthKnowledge website: