School of Population Health

Foundations of Epidemiology (PHCM9794)

image - Epidemiology & Statistics for Public Health

  • This is a core course for students commencing from Term 1 2021 in the Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Global Health (MGH), and Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence (MIDI) programs, and all dual programs. This course is offered in internal and external modes.
  • Students who are continuing their programs in 2021 are permitted to replace the core course PHCM9498 by enrolling in this course (PHCM9794) and PHCM9795 .
  • Prerequisite: Students who are not enrolled in a postgraduate program in the Faculty of Medicine should contact the School of Population Health to discuss their academic background and seek enrolment approval.


An epidemiological approach to the collection, analysis and interpretation of data is the foundation for public health practice. An understanding of epidemiological principles and methods that are fundamental to the design and analysis, as well as critical evaluation of public health studies.

This course has been designed to develop student’s essential knowledge and skills in the epidemiological principles of descriptive and analytical methodologies used to answer population health questions. Students will have the opportunity to calculate and interpret measures used to describe the distribution, determinants and impact of disease in populations. A major focus of the course is the design principles and critical appraisal of common interventional and observational studies and identification of study limitations and sources of bias, essential for the translation of quality evidence into public health practice and policy.

Students are recommended to enrol in this subject early in their program. The course is available to internal and external students and assistance will be available through tutorial activities and online help. If possible, students who are concerned about numeracy should consider enrolling in the course as an internal student.

Credit points

This course is a core course of the Master of Public Health, Global Health and Infectious Diseases Intelligence programs, comprising 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program. A value of 6 UOC requires a minimum of 150 hours work for the average student across the term.

Mode of study

External (Distance) and Internal (Face-to-Face) classes on campus.

Course aim

This course aims to provide students with the core epidemiological skills through enabling students to apply an epidemiological approach to the study of disease and illness, to critically appraise, interpret and assess the quality of evidence of a number of study types.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Identify the three main types of research questions in epidemiology: to describe population health, predict population health, and to understand the causes of population health and disease.
  2. Describe epidemiological study designs and identify their strengths and limitations.
  3. Calculate and interpret measures of disease occurrence, measures of association between exposures and disease, and measures of public health impact.
  4. Identify the types of selection and measurement bias and confounding in epidemiological studies and discuss methods to reduce their impact on study validity.
  5. Critically appraise epidemiological studies, demonstrating the ability to assess study design, interpret study methods, results and conclusions for error and bias.
Learning and teaching rationale

The approach to learning and teaching in this course is based on adult learning principles. Students are expected to integrate prior knowledge with new concepts. A large component of the teaching strategy of this course is the application of the techniques taught in the course through self-directed learning activities and assessment tasks. These reflect the learning objectives of the course and are drawn from real studies. Students can self-assess their learning by reviewing the ideal answers to learning activities and assessments tasks. The course is taught over the University session in 10 modules.

Teaching strategies

Teaching strategies and resources include:

  1. Course notes and worked examples
  2. A weekly two hour lecture
  3. Weekly learning activities with worked solutions
  4. A weekly two hour tutorial (internal) or online discussion (external)

Assessment Task 1 - Quiz
Weighting: 20%

Assessment Task 2 - Short Answer Questions
Weighting: 35%

Assessment Task 3 - Assignment
Weighting: 45%

Readings and resources
Learning resources for this course consist of the following:
  1. Course pack containing:
    1. The course notes with readings
    2. Weekly learning activities
  2. Recommended texts
  3. Scientific calculator
Recommended texts

There are many excellent epidemiology textbooks. We recommend that you consider purchasing an epidemiology text to supplement the course notes and to use as a reference in your public health career. We suggest the following text book, also available as an eBook from the library.

  • Gordis L (2013) Epidemiology, 5th Edition.  Saunders, Philadelphia.

We also recommended the following dictionary sponsored by the International Epidemiology Association. There are many epidemiological terms that you may not be familiar with or that have precise meanings and uses which are defined in this dictionary.