The University of Birmingham provides students across all programmes the opportunity to represent their peers in the student representative role. Last October myself and my fellow students Susannah Tooze and Ember Hilvers were elected to represent our peers on the MPH programme. This is a privileged position as it has provided us with the opportunity to get to know our fellow students in a personal context, as well as being able to put forward constructive suggestions to develop an even better MPH programme for future students. Given the variety of students on the MPH, Susannah, Ember and I have specific remits to represent part-time, international and Public Health Registrar students respectively.
My personal journey into the MPH and public health has been, let’s say, a scenic one! Like most people in the world I cannot say that as a child I sat in the playground dreaming of the day I would eventually become a Consultant in Public Health…in fact admittedly I didn’t know much about the concept and role until a few years ago! Which leads me to wonder how much the average member of the public understands about the role of public health and what it means to them as an individual and as part of the wider society?
The MPH has served to highlight some of the key challenges my peers and I will face as we develop our roles in public health locally, nationally and internationally. Being a full-time student on the MPH has given me the opportunity to meet and hear from private and public sector representatives as well as patient groups. The latter served to demonstrate that individuals with specific health needs want these addressed irrespective of other challenges that may face public health budgets. The role play sessions further illustrated the stand-off between emotion and evidence and how pointing at the evidence alone will never enable us to achieve our public health goals.
Often people assume the goal of education is to get the answers to problems. The MPH however, is a programme that answers one question with ten more questions! For example, reflections on my own learning has led me to think about whether or not the move from the NHS to Local Government helped to bring any real sustainable changes to improve and protect the nation’s health, or has this created a new political obstacle for public health teams to negotiate? How do we balance the role of evidence based medicine (and needs assessments) with people exercising their democratic right, through their political representatives, to choose how public money should be spent? Although the statistics are important (yes, I am slowly learning to love odds ratios and Stata 13…no really I am…), the softer skills and the interaction with people across all parts of society are even more important and have led to some interesting and challenging debates in the classroom!
Finally, when I first started the MPH, I was directed to the Faculty of Public Health’s (FPH’s) definition of public health as ‘The science and art of promoting and protecting health and well-being, preventing ill-health and prolonging life through the organised efforts of society’ (FPH 2010). This is an acceptable definition, however I would add that the key lesson I have learnt so far is that in reality public health is the art and science of striking a compromise between health needs, wants, emotions and limited budgets in an ever demanding society with complex health needs.
Written by Kanza Ahmed, Senior Student Rep, Public Health Specialty Registrar and MPH (International) Student