Research training is an essential component of postgraduate education. This component is emphasised in the Master of Science in Public Health (MScPH) at the International Medical University (IMU). The University caters to the needs of the public health workforce, by offering a MScPH in both conventional (face-to-face) and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) modes. The conventional mode is open to both local and international students while the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) mode is catered for those who cannot attend physical classes on-campus and is open to local students only.
The course is delivered via lectures, tutorials, practicals, student presentations, site visits, and attachments by teaching faculty who are medical doctors specialised in public health with decades of research and teaching experience, both nationally and internationally. In both modes, students should complete a dissertation in which they design and conduct a primary research project and defend it.
Students intending to pursue a research career in public health need to hone their skills in quantitative and qualitative research methods. During the Movement Control Order (MCO) implemented to control the Covid-19 pandemic, the Master Science in Public Health students were thrown into a new challenge to design, plan and implement their research without having any physical communication with either their supervisors or research subjects. During the pandemic period, students developed their proposals through online meetings with their supervisors on Microsoft TEAMS.
The research journey of two MSPH students, Dr Anuradha Nadarajah and Abigail Nathan illustrates vividly the challenges faced and how they were addressed. Dr Anuradha did her research on the specialty career choices of house officers and the factors influencing the decision. Abigail’s study was on factors influencing the counseling provided by community pharmacists about topical corticosteroids.
Both projects involved interviews with research participants. Due to COVID restrictions, initial interviews and follow-up interactions were done completely online in both research projects.
Abigail, a practicing pharmacist stated that “The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way we do almost everything, including conducting research. Despite the challenges, I managed to complete the module, all while adhering to both research ethics and movement restrictions”.
She acknowledges that “flexible working hours, stable Internet, and the support from my supervisors, at IMU, enabled me to complete the module remotely.
Both students have also gone further publishing two peer-reviewed publications from their research projects.
Having conducted their research as part of the requirement to graduate, Dr Anuradha Nadarajah graduated with her degree on 14 December 2021 while Abigail Nathan graduated with her degree on 25 June 2022.
Written by Dr Chandrashekhar T Sreeramareddy