An epidemiological approach to the collection, analysis and interpretation of data is the foundation for public health practice. An understanding of epidemiological principles and methods that are fundamental to the design and analysis, as well as critical evaluation of public health studies.

Students will have the opportunity to calculate and interpret measures used to describe the distribution, determinants and impact of disease in populations. A major focus of the course is the design principles and critical appraisal of common interventional and observational studies and identification of study limitations and sources of bias, essential for the translation of quality evidence into public health practice and policy.

This course is a core course of the Master of Public Health, Global 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 term.

Mode of study

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

Key contacts

A/Prof Anita Heywood
Course Convenor
+61 (2) 9385 3667

A/Prof David Muscatello
Course Convenor
+61 (2) 9385 8659

Who should do this course?

Students are recommended to enrol in this subject early in their program. 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 should consider enrolling in the course as an internal student.

Course outcomes

This course aims to provide students with the core epidemiological skills through enabling students to apply an epidemiological approach to the study of disease and illness; to critically appraise, interpret and assess the quality of evidence of a number of study types.

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

  1. identify the three main types of research questions in epidemiology: to describe population health, predict population health, and to understand the causes of population health and disease
  2. describe epidemiological study designs and identify their strengths and limitations
  3. calculate and interpret measures of disease occurrence, measures of association between exposures and disease, and measures of public health impact
  4. identify the types of selection and measurement bias and confounding in epidemiological studies and discuss methods to reduce their impact on study validity
  5. critically appraise epidemiological studies, demonstrating the ability to assess study design, interpret study methods, results and conclusions for error and bias.

Learning & teaching

The approach to learning and teaching in this course is based on adult learning principles. Students are expected to integrate prior knowledge with new concepts. A large component of the teaching strategy of this course is the application of the techniques taught in the course through self-directed learning activities and assessment tasks. These reflect the learning objectives of the course and are drawn from real studies.


Assessment Task 1a – Quiz
Weighting: 10%
Length: 10 Multiiple Choice Questions

Assessment Task 1b – Quiz
Weighting: 10%
Length: 10 Multiiple Choice Questions

Assessment Task 2 – Short Answer Questions
Weighting: 40%

Assessment Task 3 – Assignment
Weighting: 40%

Readings & resources 

There are many excellent epidemiology textbooks. For this course we recommend the following epidemiology text and have aligned appropriate chapters to the modules in this course. This textbook has recently been updated, and we recommend the 4th edition, which is available as hard copy only from the UNSW library. However, the 3rd edition is available as an ebook through the UNSW library. Unless otherwise specified in the course, either edition is suitable as module reading. .

  • Webb, Bain and Page (2020) Essential epidemiology 4th edition. Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom

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.