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Saran Shantikumar

To help you better understand what it’s like to study on the course, we caught up with Course Director and Clinical Lecturer Saran Shantikumar to find out more about his background in Public Health and the MPH course.

What’s your background in public health?

I trained in medicine and spent a few years doing clinical work on the wards with some laboratory research in molecular biology. Gradually I realised that my interests lay more in population health and epidemiology, and I did an MPH and joined the public health training scheme. This has given me a broad experience in many areas of public health, including communicable disease control, epidemiology, academia, health improvement and healthcare public health. I currently combine my time on the training scheme with teaching and research activities as a Clinical Lecturer at Warwick.

What do you think makes Warwick’s Public Health course different from other courses?

Whilst there are other Masters programmes that cover some of the core areas of relevance to public health (such as epidemiology), an MPH provides more coverage of the diverse disciplines that are crucial to working public health, such as communicable disease and sociology.

Warwick Medical School is internationally renowned, but there are many other reasons why our MPH stands out: there is a fantastic range of optional modules available, so you will be able to choose something in your own area of interest; we have a great teaching faculty across all disciplines who are research and clinically active; and the assignments are structured to be more relevant to your future life as a public health professional compared to other courses (i.e. no exams, but more teamwork and presentations). The material also closely aligns with the syllabus for the UK Faculty of Public Health professional exams. I chose to do the MPH at Warwick myself a few years ago, sat and passed the Faculty exams a few months later, and have since been very pleased with my decision!

Why is public health education so important?

Public health has been thrown into the limelight recently with the COVID-19 pandemic, and public health professionals have been key players internationally in managing it safely, from rapid guidance development and effective contact tracing, to data analysis and clear communications strategies. But the use of public health education has always been crucial. Whether it’s dealing with small outbreaks of norovirus, optimising a drug and alcohol service, ensuring safe implementation of a new vaccination strategy or advocating for more cycle lanes, you will find public health professionals at the heart of it, influencing decision-makers, driving change and ensuring local, national and international policies are effective and equitable. Unsung heroes, perhaps, but heroes all the same.

Can you tell us a bit more about some of the modules available?

Everyone on the MPH will learn the foundation knowledge and skills required to be an effective public health professional: communicable disease control, epidemiology, health improvement and the social determinants of health. Following this, you can choose three of a range of optional modules. For examples, we are fortunate to have a Public Mental Health and Wellbeing module, which is unique to Warwick, and an immensely important topic with growing recognition. Our other optional modules are also taught by renowned experts in their fields who lead high impact research that influences policy, including health screening, health economics, qualitative methods, critical appraisal, global health and advanced epidemiology. There is so much choice on offer, I don’t feel envious of anyone needing to make a decision to select just three of them!

Are there any opportunities to network during the course?

Absolutely. The Warwick MPH attract students from all over the world with interesting and diverse backgrounds, from recent graduates to seasoned healthcare professionals and those from non-healthcare fields (I did my MPH with a secondary school maths teacher!). This really enriches the course and allows ample opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives. Networking doesn’t stop with the students, though. We have a faculty of active public health professionals and academics who are keen to nurture the future workforce, and you can easily identify staff with whom you would like to do your MPH project/dissertation and with whom you can speak to find out more about working in public health.

What skills do you think students develop during the course?

This is not a theory-only course. The theory is important, but in reality you need the skills to go out into the real world and be able to do the public health job you want. I had absolutely no public health experience before doing the MPH here but a year later, through the range of teaching, applied written assignments, group work and presentations, developed the confidence to use the knowledge I had gained to be an effective member of a public health team.

What support is available for those on the course?

The course directors engage with students throughout the course and are keen to provide you with support and guidance around your progression through the MPH. We are also lucky to have a Senior Tutor independent of the course who can guide students around wider factors that may impact on their progression, and the University have a dedicated Wellbeing Support Service who provide one-to-one support where needed, including skills sessions, mentoring and counselling. If you come to Warwick to do the MPH, you will have access to the support you need to enjoy your time here, complete the course successfully, and ensure you feel well-equipped for the next stage in your career, whatever you choose that to be.