Dr Francine Watkins

Dr Francine Watkins, Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Director of the University of Liverpool’s Master of Public Health (MPH) programmes, describes how online programmes are helping public health students make a difference across the world.

Public health professionals across the world are increasingly facing the stark challenges of health inequalities within their communities. Regardless of where these communities are globally, and while the specific issues they face may differ from community to community, the skills and knowledge needed by professionals to tackle these issues are ubiquitous.

For example, here in the UK one of the biggest public health challenges we face at the moment are the consequences of the increasing number of people living in relative poverty and the impact this has on their health and wellbeing.

Starting life in poverty is a known contributor to health inequalities in adulthood and the Child Poverty Action Group believe in 2014-2015 28% of children, 3.9 million, were living in poverty. Therefore being able to evidence and tackle health inequalities will continue to be a priority.

In Africa, maternal and child health, access to adequate healthcare and the health challenges from smoke from cooking with solid fuels are current public health issues. Across Asia, communicable diseases, poor sanitation and under funded health systems are still some of the challenges faced by public health professionals.

Public health professionals therefore need a wide range of skills and knowledge to effectively assess the problem, develop evidence and apply their knowledge and experience. Public health encompasses a wide breadth of skills from epidemiological analytical skills, to examining how different health systems work, to exploring the social theories behind health improvement.

A dynamic, collaborative and engaging learning environment is key to educating the public health professionals of the future to really make an impact on the public health challenges they face.

I believe that online learning is one of the most efficient platforms for educating public health professionals all over the world, and this is something I recently discussed in partnership with RSPH for an ITN film.

Our online programmes provide busy working professionals with the skills and knowledge they need, not only to develop effective prevention strategies and health-improvement schemes, but also to ensure they can confidently implement them by learning how to empower the communities in which they work.

The flexibility that is offered through online learning allows healthcare professionals from around the world to combine work and study and simultaneously apply their new knowledge and skills straightaway.

Through the University of Liverpool’s fully online platform, MPH students are part of a collaborative global classroom that enables them to learn and share best practice, this results in an enriching experience for students to share ideas and explore new concepts in a collaborative learning environment and have a direct impact on the important public health challenges facing their local communities.

It is this flexible, collaborative approach to tackling public health issues that will ensure that we as public health professionals create change for people all over the world.