Teaching epidemiology and biostatistics: medical students' views on the content and instructional strategies of an introductory course
Keywords:instructional strategies, medical education, epidemiology, biostatistics
AbstractThe inclusion of epidemiology and biostatistics in the undergraduate medical curriculum is essential in this era of evidence based health care. Despite this, teaching this topic often results in the students feeling confused and the teachers discouraged. At The University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, students in the first semester of their third year are routinely asked to complete an evaluation form at the end of an introductory course in epidemiology and biostatistics. Students' views on course content and instructional strategies for the year 2009 are presented here. The majority of students reported that the material presented was useful in helping them to interpret or carry out research in the future. They reported marked improvement in their ability to read, understand and critique the medical literature. Lectures were considered to be the most effective instructional method overall but less than one fifth of students thought biostatistics was effectively taught through that method. Students seemed to favour a teacher-centred learning environment although an appreciation for certain features of a learner-centred approach, such as participation in studentled group presentations, was evident. We conclude that a combination of instructional methods is useful to teaching epidemiology and biostatistics to medical students. It is necessary to identify the unique features of the different approaches that make them beneficial and use this information to better design teaching/learning programmes, with special consideration for the specific subject area being addressed. An enabling environment, including suitable teaching staff and infrastructure that actively engages learners using a variety of approaches, is essential to the teaching/learning process for epidemiology and biostatistics. Application of the principles taught in this course during their clinical rotations will also help to consolidate the learning experience.