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Interview with Dr Oyinlola Oyebode

Dr Oyinlola Oyebode has been working at Warwick Medical School since 2014 and is a member of our teaching team on our Public Health courses. We caught up with her to learn about the the sorts of topics covered in her classes, what she enjoys most about teaching and what type of role public health professionals might hold.

Can you tell us a bit about what public health is and what jobs in public health involve?

The Faculty of Public Health defines public health as 'the science and art of promoting and protecting health and well-being, preventing ill-health and prolonging life through the organised efforts of society'. The two main roles in public health are to work on health promotion in the local authority, or health protection in Public Health England.

In the local authority jobs involve looking at how to improve health in the local population. For example, you might be involved in smoking cessation programmes or the NHS health check programme. You could be working on projects looking at increasing the physical activity of the local population, collaborating with other council departments on transport and travel planning to increase the amount of time people spend walking and cycling or with leisure services to increase the amount of people doing sport.

Within Public Health England, there are local health protection teams around the country. They are notified when particular infectious diseases (for example, meningiccocal meningitis, or infectious hepatitis) , and their aim is to locate their source and prevent them from spreading. This helps make sure the infection is effectively contained.

How did you come to work in public health at Warwick?

When I was younger I didn’t really know much about public health and so hadn’t considered it as a career option. I studied science as an undergraduate and then did a PhD in neuroscience, but decided that this wasn’t a route I wanted to pursue. However I was keen to continue working in a role that I found rewarding, which involved data and had the goal of improving health. I spoke to someone I knew who was working as a public health consultant, and they suggested public health might be a good area for me to work in that would match my interests and experience.

Back then the Public Health training programme had just opened to non-medics, so I decided to apply to that. I needed two years of public health work experience first, so I worked in roles in Wolverhampton and Birmingham, before joining the training programme in London for four years. During those four years it was the academic work that I enjoyed the most, so on completion of the programme in August 2014 I joined Professor Richard Lilford’s global health team here at Warwick, although since then I’ve picked up some UK public health work too.

What do you teach on the Master’s in Public Health? What do you most enjoy about your teaching?

I’m co-lead of the Practice of Public Health module, a core module which everyone on the course studies. We cover quite a range of topics, from health protection, infectious disease prevention and screening to pollution and climate change. I’m also the lead of International Health Policy, an optional module in which we study topics such as international policy, sustainable development, the World Health Organisation and the millennium development goals.

This autumn we’re also launching a new module in Global Health, which I’ll be running with a colleague (Debbi Marais) and am really looking forward to. My favourite thing about teaching is how enthusiastic our students are! We have some great discussions. I also like the fact it forces me to stay up-to-date - I’m going to have to completely re-write my climate change lecture now that Trump has pulled out of the Paris agreement!

Can you give us an example of a public health topic you might discuss with students in your modules?

Sure! In International Health Policy we discuss challenges facing the world such as the ageing population, and ask why women live longer than men. There’s an average of more than four years’ difference between a woman’s life expectancy and a man’s worldwide.

This is a great public health question because there are so many factors to consider. If the group are really good they can consider all the many determinants of health that mean the sexes aren’t equal. For example, ‘intrinsic’ factors like how certain hormones have been shown to protect women from some diseases and the fact that women have two X chromosomes, meaning they might be less likely to be affected by certain X-linked genetic conditions. Then there’s lifestyle differences – men are more likely to smoke and drink than women, for example, and are more likely to work in a dangerous environment than women. Women are also more likely to use health services and see a doctor earlier when they become ill than men.

It’s always a bonus if a group thinks of something we’ve not discussed in previous years and it’s always interesting to hear the different ideas that our students contribute.

What makes Public Health students at Warwick special?

Our students come from such diverse backgrounds, and they bring with them really varied experience – some even have international experience. This makes our discussions really interesting. Although the majority of our students are professionals, some come straight from their undergraduate degree. It’s a great opportunity for these individuals to network and learn from people who have real world experience in their area of interest. It can also be useful having people on the course who haven’t yet had real world experience as they bring fresh perspectives on the challenges we discuss.

Why study Public Health at Warwick?

Gaining a master’s in public health can be a great way to progress your career. If you’re considering applying to the Public Health specialty training programme, having the master’s can be a good way of proving your academic credentials, as well as helping you decide whether this is definitely something you want to pursue. I think the course really develops our students’ critical thinking and the ability to find and use evidence effectively. Warwick’s campus is really beautiful – we have a bluebell wood and lakes just a few minutes’ walk from the medical school, so it can be a lovely environment to study in.