Public Health and Epidemiology

RCSI has been teaching public health to medical students since 1841, a time when infectious diseases, child mortality and low life expectancy were impacting European and North American populations at scales seen only in the poorest countries today.

At the Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, we bring this global perspective to our teaching and research.

The academic departments of Public Health and Epidemiology and Health Psychology form part of the Centre for Population Health and Health Services Research.

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At Undergraduate level, staff from the department teach a module that combines evidence-based health (EBH) and public health epidemiology (PHE). This is delivered to students early in the medical curriculum – Year 2 for Undergraduate Medicine and Year 1 for Graduate Entry Medicine students.

EBH introduces students to research methods; epidemiology and statistics; how to critically assess scientific literature; and ethical and professional issues in health research. PHE provides students with an international perspective on population health approaches for disease prevention and control – this reflects the diversity of our students and the populations they will serve.

Phase 2 of the new RCSI curriculum, will include a vertically integrated theme in epidemiology and public health. This theme will consist of health systems and services; health policy, economics and management; clinical informatics and information technology; safety, quality and improvement of care; evidence-based medicine and health; and population, global and public health.

In addition to Undergraduate teaching, our departmental staff also deliver biostatistics and qualitative methods modules and workshops to RCSI Postgraduate students as part of the SPHeRE PhD programme. We supervise and support PhD and Masters students, and provide research methods and biostatistics support to research staff and students across RCSI.

Our academic and research staff are active researchers from several countries, with strong international networks. Outputs reflect the breadth and depth of knowledge generation for the betterment of individuals and populations in low, middle and high-income country settings. Our global health research, based mainly in Africa, covers surgical systems research and household air pollution.

The SURG-Africa team of researchers has moved to the RCSI Institute of Global Surgery under the leadership of Professor Mark Shrime. Professor Ruairi Brugha, the Principal Investigator on the SURG-Africa project, will continue to lead the project as an RCSI Professor Emeritus based in the Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, working alongside his colleagues in the RCSI Institute of Global Surgery.

Irish and European health research covers perinatal outcomes, hospital adverse events, physical activity and disability and medical workforce retention.

Research funding comes from the European Union, Irish Health Research Board, Irish Aid and others.

Our research outputs are strengthened by a remarkably strong group of biostatisticians who have contributed to RCSI becoming Ireland’s leading health sciences research college, and an internationally sought after partner.

The climate crisis is reaching an irreversible tipping point. If the planet continues on its current trajectory of rising global temperatures and increasing ecological instability, then humans will be faced with catastrophic environmental and health effects1. In acknowledgement of the interface between environmental change and human health, there is an increasing international mandate to integrate themes of sustainability, climate change and ecological instability into the health professional curriculum. As a result, planetary health is a growing field in health and medicine2.

Climate change, environmental instability and its impact on human health offer a catalyst for redefining the role of the physician as an eco-literate advocate for global health, beginning with undergraduate medical training3. In addition, integrating “sustainable healthcare” into medical curricula would seek to promote “universal values such as justice, respect for all humanity and equality” and can promote critical thinking skills, social empathy and self-awareness amongst students4.

RCSI, in conjunction with The Irish Doctors for the Environment (IDE), has formed a network of seven universities representing all medical schools across the island of Ireland, entitled Climate Health in Medical Education (CHIME) Ireland. The project has brought together academic staff to agree what should be included in a planetary health curriculum for medical students.

CHIME has a number of objectives:

  1. To form a network of public health educators from all Irish medical schools
  2. To outline what is currently taught on planetary health in Irish medical schools
  3. To identify and address barriers and facilitators to implementing teaching on planetary health
  4. To identify key topics and learning outcomes for a planetary health curriculum
  5. To develop a proposed curriculum on planetary health for medical students 

To date, CHIME has run two workshops with representatives participating from medical schools across Ireland. We used a method known as nominal group technique to reach agreement, a consensus group method characterised by individual participant generation of ideas followed by whole group discussion and prioritisation of these ideas. The first workshop identified the barriers and facilitators to teaching planetary health and the second workshop focused on identifying core curricula content.

The CHIME project has been supported by the work of Dr Oisin Brady Bates, who has recently completed an MSc in research at RCSI exploring perceptions of academic staff and students on the integration of planetary health into the medical curriculum. RCSI is seeking to implement the recommendations from this study in the coming months.

Next steps

We are seeking to agree curriculum content during the first half of 2022, with a view to beginning to roll out minimum planetary health curricula content by September 2022. Once a curriculum has been agreed, we will be seeking to broaden the remit of the network to other interested health professional networks.

Contacts for CHIME Ireland

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are ranked in the top 50 in the Times Higher Impact Rankings for SDG3: Good Health and Well-being.

1. Masson-Delmotte V, P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L., Connors CP, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R., Matthews TKM, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In, Press. IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth

2. McLean M, Gibbs T, McKimm J. Educating for planetary health and environmentally sustainable health care: Responding with urgency. Medical Teacher. 2020;42(10):1082-4.

3. Maxwell J, Blashki G. Teaching About Climate Change in Medical Education: An Opportunity. Journal of Public Health Research. 2016;5(1).

4. Thompson T, Walpole S, Braithwaite I, Inman A, Barna S, Mortimer F. Learning objectives for sustainable health care. The Lancet. 2014;384(9958):1924-5.

Interim Head of Department

Professor

Lecturers

Emeritus Professor

Honorary Senior Lecturer

  • Paul Kavanagh

Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

  • Lois O’Connor

Research staff

Research Assistant 

  • Helen Corrigan