Professional Certification: Population Health Data Analysis in British Columbia

Population health research is inherently interdisciplinary, multifaceted and firmly rooted in the evolving connections between place, time and related socioeconomic processes. To excel in this rapidly diversifying field requires a broad range of skills. The importance of data analytics and spatial thinking as it pertains to the world’s growing health concerns—be they social, physical or environmental—also demands approaches that serve real time and remotely accessed, exploratory and highly collaborative research environments. The Professional Specialization Certificate in Population Health Data Analysis (PSC in PHDA) strives to address these needs.

The PSC in PHDA Program combines a unique blend of epidemiological and geospatial skills to enhance the skills sets of many new and mid-career professionals. Designed in collaboration with a tri-university research platform, the fully online, practice focused training environment both mirrors and supports many of the day-to-day skill development needs of health and social science researchers. The multidisciplinary focus of this specialized training program is attracting a diverse cross-section of health research professionals seeking to update their skills and knowledge or learn new analytic techniques.

Those enrolled in the program possess backgrounds ranging from Masters degrees in Population and Public Health, Epidemiology, Environmental Studies, Statistics, Sociology, Kinesiology and Biomedical Communications to PhD’s in Medicine, Psychology, Geography, Biostatistics and International Health. These participants bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with their online colleagues, supporting a rich, practice-based education and skills development environment.

Anders Erickson, the instructor of the Spatial Epidemiology course offered within the suite of certificate courses, sees real benefits in the program design and specialized course content:

“Geography is an essential, though underutilized, framework for population health research and practice. In today’s world of rapidly expanding geospatial networks, apps, and research projects, having knowledge of different kinds of spatial data, geographic information system methods and the necessary skills to critically interpret and assess spatial analyses is a real asset. GIS is a powerful tool for improving the understanding of data through visualisation and analysis, and is being increasingly used by more and more health professionals for planning, monitoring and surveillance. Presenting data in maps can provide more insight than a table of the same data, enabling quick assessments of trends and interrelationships. This capability can assist in targeting public health initiatives as well as evaluating health programs and informing long term planning.

The Spatial Epidemiology and Disease Outbreak Detection course focuses on essential skills to do this kind of work. Students learn how to:

  • assess exposures though the use of GIS
  • visualize spatial data
  • conduct small area health studies, and
  • incorporate spatial parameters into models for specific health analyses

It’s of great value to health professionals or graduate students who may be very knowledgeable in the broader areas of population and public health but have never been exposed to the power of GIS. Whether students want to learn new analytic techniques for expanding research projects or simply become more familiar about spatial analysis as a manager of an analytic team, this course has a lot to offer.

UVIC 300x232 Professional Certification: Population Health Data Analysis in British Columbia
Spatial exposure assessment method (Inverse Distance Weighting) used in spatial health studies.

As a researcher involved in environmental epidemiology, I see the strength and value of health mapping and applied spatial analytics on a day-to-day basis. As an instructor for the Spatial Epidemiology course, I really enjoy sharing this knowledge and passion for spatial analysis with my student colleagues. It’s a very specialized, fully online course that balances theory with hands on data analysis work in a Secure Research Training Lab. One of the highlights of the course is working with students as they develop final projects that are chosen to expand on their personal interests in their academic or professional lives. Projects ranged from built environment and obesity or socioeconomic status and pediatric head trauma to a forest ecology project on the spatiotemporal patterns and drivers of a fungus disease affecting pine trees. Because so many of the students who apply to the PHDA program are skilled professionals, the course really provides a rich learning environment for online discussions and collaborative analytic work.“

The PHDA program includes a suite of professional certificate courses that provide a unique blend of epidemiological and geospatial statistical analysis. Two geospatial courses that will be offered in 2016 include PHDA03: Population Health and GIS and PHDA04: Spatial Epidemiology and Outbreak Detection. For more information, please visit continuingstudies.uvic.ca/population and to learn more about what our students are saying about their program experience visit the Population Data BC website.

 Professional Certification: Population Health Data Analysis in British Columbia

About our Author: Anders Erickson

Anders Erickson is an Interdisciplinary PhD candidate with the Division of Medical Sciences & Department of Geography at the University of Victoria. His research interests are varied, but predominantly focus on the spatial and environmental epidemiology of reproductive health, the social determinants of health and gene-environment interactions. His current PhD project uses small area spatial and multilevel analyses to model the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight and preterm birth relating to air pollution exposure and its possible interaction with social factors. Anders has consulted on several other research projects and government contracts regarding biostatistics, epidemiology and GIS mapping. He will be teaching PHDA 04: Spatial Epidemiology and Outbreak Detection in September 2016.

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