School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Epidemiology & Statistics for Public Health (PHCM9498)

image - Epidemiology & Statistics for Public Health


This core course introduces students to the quantitative methods that are the cornerstone of public health research and evidence-based public health policy and practice. Statistical and epidemiological concepts are taught in parallel to promote integration of knowledge across both disciplines. Students will be introduced to epidemiological principles through case studies, which will be examined for study design, associated weaknesses and strengths and statistical techniques. The statistics component develops skills and understanding of basic statistical analysis methods, with hands-on experience analysing epidemiological data using SPSS software. 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 or computing skills should consider enrolling in the course as an internal student.

Further Information: A non-compulsory Foundations Workshop for both internal and external students will be held in residential week on Wednesday, 21 February 2018, which includes an introductory tutorial on SPSS software. In addition, an optional drop-in SPSS clinic will be held each week for students who require additional assistance.

Please note that there will be an exam for this course during the official University Examination Period (2-25 June).The date of the exam is arranged centrally by the University Examinations Unit and will be released 23 April, 2018.

Credit points

This course is a core course of the Master of Public Health, International Public 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 semester.

Mode of study

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

Course aim

The aim of this course is to enable you to apply an epidemiological approach to the study of disease and illness, to critically appraise, interpret and assess the quality of evidence of a range of study designs and to apply appropriate statistical techniques in the analysis of public health data.

Learning outcomes

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

  1. Calculate and interpret measures of disease occurrence, measures of association between exposures and disease, and measures of public health impact.
  2. Describe appropriate study designs to assess population health status, determinants of health and health system utilization.
  3. Demonstrate understanding of statistical inference and confidence intervals, and recognise the appropriate statistical test of significance for different types of variables.
  4. Use statistical software to summarise features of data graphically and numerically, perform t-tests, chi-square, correlation and simple linear regression, and interpret computer output of tests appropriately.
  5. Critically appraise published studies, demonstrating the ability to assess study design and methods of data analysis, as well as 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. When we introduce new material, we expect you as post-graduate students to be able to integrate prior knowledge with new concepts. We strongly believe that in both Epidemiology and Statistics, the best way to learn new material and the application of the techniques taught in the course is for you to practice using self-directed learning activities and assessment tasks that reflect the learning objectives of the course and are drawn from real studies. Therefore, it is essential that you carry out each of the weekly learning activities and the assessments in the course.  Internal students will be able to obtain feedback during the weekly tutorial classes. External students will be able to obtain feedback online through discussion with Tutors and other students. All students can also self-assess their learning by reviewing the answers to learning activities which will be posted online each week.

Teaching strategies

Optional foundations Workshop: Students may attend an optional (but recommended) workshop during residential week on 21 February 2018. Internal students attend the workshop from 9am-1pm and external students attend the workshop from 9am-4pm. We recommend attendance if you are concerned about the course or modules.  For example, students who have limited prior experience with epidemiology or statistics may benefit particularly from attending. The material covered in the workshop forms the foundation of the work to be covered in Modules 1 to 12. The aim is to introduce the course, its outcomes, assessment criteria plus some basic concepts in epidemiology and statistics. External students will also have the opportunity to attend the Module 1 lecture.

The workshop is an opportunity for you to clarify expectations, meet other external and internal students and establish a working relationship with us all.  Importantly, you will be shown where to find the online material you will need during the course and gain hands-on experience in the use of SPSS and Excel software by working through some simple exercises found in your SPSS course notes. This will provide basic skills you will build through the course to complete the weekly statistics learning activities.

You will find it useful to prepare for the workshop by reviewing this course outline and reading the course notes for the Foundations Module as well as Module 1 for both the statistics and epidemiology components of the course (i.e. Module 1-S and Module 1-E). The SPSS notes for the introductory tutorial can be found at the end of the course notes.

Please ensure you have activated your z-pass before attending the workshop so that you will be able to log onto the University system for the tutorial.


Assessment Task 1 - Quiz 1
Weighting: 10%

Assessment Task 2 - Assignment
Weighting: 40%

Assessment Task 3 - Quiz 2
Weighting: 10%

Assessment Task 4 - Final examination
Weighting: 40%

Readings and resources
Learning resources for this course consist of the following:
  1. Optional Foundations Workshop – residential week 21 February 2018
  2. Course pack (printed copy available for purchase from UNSW Bookshop or online via Moodle) containing:
    1. The course notes with readings
    2. Weekly learning activities
    3. SPSS Notes
  3. Recommended texts
  4. SPSS statistical software
  5. Scientific calculator
Recommended texts

There are many excellent epidemiology and statistics textbooks, although very few adequately combine the key concepts of both disciplines in a single book. We recommend that you consider purchasing one epidemiology text and one statistics text to supplement the course notes and to use as a reference in your public health career. We suggest the following text books. All are also available as an e-book from the library.

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.