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A student’s guide to studying Public Health

Scientist in laboratory

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Amy shares her guide to studying an MSc in Public Health as an online, distance and flexible learning student based in South Africa.

Any Collyer

If you’re curious about diving into the world of public health, you are in the right place! Here is my guide to studying the subject as an online, distance and flexible learner.  

Why study public health?  

Public health is the study and protection of health for all people in entire communities and populations. It encompasses a broad and enthralling umbrella of topics which can be challenging but rewarding to learn about. Beyond knowledge and specific skill accrual, studying public health can open many doors to an impactful career.

Tell me about the Master of Public Health 

A Master of Public Health is a very diverse degree depending on the stream and modules chosen. It can encourage learning about very factual subjects, such as biostatistics. On the other hand, it can encourage very out-of-the-box and flexible thinking, for example in health promotion or social research. It can be a blend of health sciences, humanities, mathematics, economics and more! 

What streams are there?  

 At the University of London, with academic direction from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) the following streams are on offer: general, health economics, health services management, health promotion and environment & health. 

Where can a Master of Public Health take you?  

With a Master of Public Health, the opportunities are abundant. Career options may include working in food safety, research (including lab or fieldwork), working with NGOs and community organisations, hospital management, government agencies, healthcare organisations, pharmaceutical companies, vaccine development, consulting firms, health insurance companies, or even at universities. The possibilities are endless!

Now, let’s talk about studying public health through distance learning, what is it like? 

For prospective distance learners, the Masters of Public Health is hard work to balance with work and life, but it is possible. It is incredibly rewarding as it teaches one to think through a critical, multidisciplinary and creative lens. It allows the development of academic writing, research and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to make connections virtually or potentially in-person through study groups and meet-ups.  

How do I interact with other students and make friends online? 

In my opinion, it is much harder to make friends virtually than in-person; but it is possible. My main tip is to put yourself out there by joining the various subject-specific WhatsApp groups and forums, recruiting people to form study groups that can meet over Zoom or Teams, replying to people on forums to give advice or explain something better, offering to help others in some way and connecting on LinkedIn. There are also intermittent opportunities to meet with others in-person through course meetings or in London at events organised by the University. 

What is the best study advice for a distance learner? 

It is important to stay organised and to plan ahead so that coursework and assignments can be completed on time and that exams can be taken with confidence. I ask for project deadlines early and note university deadlines as soon as possible, then I compile everything into a timeline and add everything into my Google calendar. I also make sure I put in a little bit of work almost every day so that there isn’t a pile to get through too close to the deadlines. I recommend joining as many live virtual collaborative sessions or watching the replays; as well as participating in the forums as much as possible to develop debating and critical analysis skills. When making notes for each subject, I make use of technology that allows me to connect my writing with excerpts from journal articles and links to websites, so that everything is in one place. 

What about my wellbeing? 

Remember, life is about more than just studying. It is important to do activities you enjoy. Here are some recommendations to help you manage your wellbeing:   

  • Prioritise an exercise routine— try doing movement practices that you actually enjoy and can reasonably incorporate into your schedule. 
  • Good nutrition— regular, varied meals with enough protein and fibre— is really important for physical and mental health.  
  • Get offline and join local activity clubs for movement, crafts or other niche interests.  
  • Stay calm with relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and even mindfulness meditation.  
  • Try and maintain hobbies and stay connected with friends while studying. 

Remember, don’t be afraid to seek support if you are struggling with your mental health or feeling overwhelmed. This could be from friends, family, professional services or the University of London Wellbeing support. University of London online, distance and flexible learners have access to TalkCampus  an app-based peer support network for students to give and receive mental health support.  

Studying public health is a journey worth taking, filled with opportunities to make a lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of communities around the world.  

Amy studies MSc in Public Health as a distance learner based in South Africa.