School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Foundations in Public Health & Health Care Systems (PHCM9041)

image - Foundations in Public Health & Health Care Systems


Students are first introduced to a critical timeline of public health history and the evolution of global and national public health institutions as a stepping stone to recognising patterns of health disparities and policy-making in a variety of economic and cultural contexts. An orientation to how social and cultural determinants of health interrelate, including particular attention to the health of Australia’s First Peoples, grounds students in the fundamental factors that impact health status. By learning to identify problematic, disempowering practices in contemporary and historical public health settings, students are given the opportunity to build the skills and confidence by which to translate rhetoric into achievable, progressive public health solutions.

Students will gain an introduction to the essential principles, means and methods of measuring public health data, the ways evidence and science (of various types) can inform policy and examine sources of tension at the policy-evidence interface. Modules of health promotion, disease prevention and management, environmental issues, health securitisation and Big Data anchor students with an introduction to the breadth of skill sets and perspectives essential for careers in public health.

Credit points

This is a core course for the Master of Public Health (MPH) program contributing 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the MPH program and is an elective in the MIPH, MIDI and MHM programs..

Mode of study

This course is offered in two modes: 1) either face-to-face classes on-campus for Internal students, and 2) fully online for Distance External students.

Course aim

This course aims to provide you with a solid foundation in the field of public health. This foundation will form the basis for your further study in the Public Health, International Public Health or Health Management programs.

Course Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you should be able to:

  • Understand how public health (as a global and national institution) came to be where it is today
  • Apply principles of public health to a range of conditions and contexts
  • Access and interpret data and information for public health purposes
  • Discuss the public health management of communicable and non-communicable disease
  • Identify some of the determinants of health and disease in populations and discuss the role of health promotion
  • Recognise the public health needs of population subgroups, particularly Australia’s Indigenous people, and discuss reasons for differences in health status
  • Discuss the Australian healthcare system, and understand how it compares to systems internationally
  • Outline environmental health issues demonstrating a basic understanding of the key issues and concepts
  • Outline the policy making process in relation to health and consider the impact of policy and programs on health
  • Explain the importance of intersectoral collaboration in public health and the role of advocacy in achieving public health outcomes
Learning and teaching rationale

Our approach to learning and teaching is based on adult learning principles. When you are introduced to new material it is expected that as postgraduate students you will be able to integrate prior knowledge, draw on your own experience and formulate new understandings at a theoretical and practical level. It is expected that you will engage actively with the course material, carefully reflect on the lectures and actively participate in the tutorial forums. You should receive a strong foundation in public health upon which to build your future career.

Our course participants come from diverse backgrounds, with varied forms of professional training and experience. Participants come from Australia and a number of other countries, with some students internal and others external. The design of the course aims to ensure that every student can benefit by understanding the relevance of the concepts to their own setting. In order to do this we draw on Australian and international examples wherever possible and encourage you to compare contrast systems. In particular, the course aims to give external and internal students the same challenges and opportunities, enabled by technology.

Teaching strategies

This course is designed for students studying in internal mode and external mode. External students are advised to follow the same course schedule as that being followed by internal students. There are a total of ten modules this term. Each module addresses different aspects of public health at a foundation level. Some of the topics you are introduced to in this course will be covered in more detail in other core courses, or may be available to you to study, in-depth, as elective courses.


Assessment Task 1 - Report on the historical foundations of public health
Weighting: 25%
Length: 1000 words

Assessment Task 2 - A critical assessment of public health foundations
Weighting: 25%
Length: 1000 words

Assessment Task 3 - Public Health Principles in Practice
Weighting: 50%
Length: 2500 words per post

Readings and resources

Learning resources for this course consist of the following:

  • Course notes and readings (available for purchase from UNSW Bookshop and can be downloaded from Moodle)
  • Lectures slides (posted in Moodle)
  • Lecture recordings (available in Moodle)
  • Supplementary resources such as videos, podcasts (available in Moodle)