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Unit information: Essentials of Public Health and Health Improvement in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

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 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kidger
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.

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 life-course approaches to prevention. 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 and critically appraise 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. Describe a lifecourse approach to health improvement, and identify key public health challenges for different age groups
  10. 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).

Summative Assessment:

Coursework: A written assignment will form 60% of the overall unit mark. It will be a 3,000 word essay. Students will be required to choose from a list of health improvement interventions (addressing key topics covered on the course) and write a critique of the intervention. (ILOs 1-10).

Closed book, unseen exam: The 1-hour exam will contribute 40% of the total unit mark. The exam will consist of short answer questions. (ILOs 1-10)

An overall score of 50% will be required to pass the unit.

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: