Saturday, October 29, 2011

Learning curves

“…OK, so you have to do the math.”

“That’s an interesting question…”

“What’s the denominator?”

Nope, APHA wasn’t hosting math tutorials Saturday. At least not the kind of math tutorials you remember from high school.

Instead, a wide range of public health professionals were sitting at round tables during one of the APHA Annual Meeting’s Learning Institutes, working their way through a series of questions from their instructor, Joy Nanda, DSc, MS, MHS, MBA.

Nanda has taught Epidemiology for Nonepidemiologists (Learning Institute 1004) before, but this year he has tweaked the two-day program to allow time for more collaboration between students.

And so after a morning of lectures and PowerPoint slides on everything from the Greek roots of the word “epidemiology” (literally “the study of epidemics”) to the relationship between incidence and prevalence, participants put their heads together to see what they learned.

For one question, students were told to suppose they were epidemiologists in Kenya studying the effects of tuberculosis on health. There had been 28,142 new cases of TB in the last year, and the population at risk was 29,137,000. What, Nanda wanted to know, is the incidence rate of TB per 100,000? And furthermore, what other outcomes should the epidemiologists measure?

Nanda said about 20 percent of the students in this class, which is one of the most popular Learning Institutes, are physicians. Others are public health practitioners, students and psychologists. Once, he taught the dean of a school of public health who was looking to be able to hold his own in conversations with epidemiologists, Nanda said. Others just want to brush up on skills they learned years ago.

“What you’re going to get in these two days is to see what epidemiologists do and what is it about and how it is relevant,” Nanda told the group of about 60.

Nearly 600 people registered for APHA’s 19 Learning Institutes, held this Saturday and Sunday. Topics ranged from an introduction to mathematical modeling to how to support faculty, graduate students and post-docs so they can succeed as community-engaged scholars.

Courses range from $25 to $340, and participants can earn up to six continuing education credit hours.

Rae Starr, MPhil, a biostatistician from Los Angeles, is attending his second Annual Meeting and his second Learning Institute.

“It’s an effective way to get training,” he said, explaining that it makes more economic sense to seek training at a conference he’s already attending than to try to find training elsewhere, which might require another plane flight and hotel stay.

He said he chooses carefully when taking CE courses, looking for instructors with impressive credentials to determine whether it will be a “high quality” experience.

Did you participate in APHA's Learning Institutes? Let us know what you thought in the comments section.

— C.T.

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