School of Population Health

Epidemiology (PHCM2001)


Epidemiology is a foundation discipline in public health. It is the study of who, where, what, why, and how of illness and disability in human populations: who is affected and most susceptible, where is it occurring, what are the causes, why is it occurring, and how is it spreading? Once we know this information, we can use the data gathered to plan and evaluate the effectiveness of strategies to prevent illness and disability from occurring in the first instance or to manage the symptoms when it has already developed.

This course introduces students to epidemiological principles and methods such as basic tools for measuring illness and risk factors in the population, interpreting and assessing the quality of scientific health evidence by critiquing a range of study designs, and reporting on epidemiological research.

Credit points

This is a core course in the Bachelor of International Public Health (3880) comprising 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program.

Mode of study

Fully online.


There are no pre-requisite courses that need to be completed before undertaking this course.

Course aim

This course introduces you to epidemiological principles and methods. The aims of the course are to enable you to:

  • Apply an epidemiological approach to the study of disease and other health-related outcomes,
  • Interpret and assess the quality of evidence of a range of study designs, and
  • To report on epidemiological research.
Course outcomes

On successfully completing this course you will be able to:

  • Calculate and interpret measures of disease occurrence and understand the difference between incidence and prevalence.
  • Calculate measures of association between exposures and disease and understand appropriate use of odds ratios, relative risks and other measures, as well as measures of public health impact.
  • Demonstrate understanding methods for standardisation of rates.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the applications of and the difference between observational and interventional epidemiology.
  • Describe appropriate study designs to assess population health status, determinants of health and health system utilisation, and measures of the efficacy of interventions in health.
  • Assess and evaluate the impact of study errors/bias on the validity of a study.
Learning and teaching rationale

This course has been designed to support you in gaining the fundamental knowledge and skills for applying epidemiology within a public health practice role. This course uses learning activities and assessment tasks that reflect the learning outcomes of the course and are drawn from real studies in order to support your learning of new concepts and the application of epidemiological techniques through practice, lectures, online discussions and scheduled webinars.

The course is delivered fully online over a ten-week term. You are expected to spend approximately 10-15 hours a week preparing for and actively participating in this course and preparing for and completing assessments through UNSW Moodle.


Assessment Task 1 - Quizzes 1 and 2
Weighting: 20% (10% each)
Length: 10 multiple choice questions each

Assessment Task 2 - Mid-term Assessment
Weighting: 25%
Length: Multiple-part short answer questions

Assessment Task 3 - Final Assessment
Weighting: 45%
Length: Multiple-part sections with different questions

Assessment Task 4 - Practice Question Completion
Weighting: 10%
Length: 10 weekly online practice tasks

Readings and resources

There are many other useful textbooks that you can also use as a reference. Some suggested textbooks are:

Bonita R, Beaglehole R, Kjellström T (2006) Basic epidemiology (2nd edition). World Health Organization: Geneva. Available from:

Gordis L (2013) Epidemiology, 5th edition. Saunders, Philadelphia. Available from UNSW Library at:

Last JM (2001) A dictionary of epidemiology, 4th edition. Oxford University Press, New York.