Merging academy and healthcare in the Public Health training of medical students

Public Health Rev. 2020 Dec 3;41(1):28. doi: 10.1186/s40985-020-00146-1.


Background: Public Health remains central to understand health and its determinants, and Public Health teams are essential for an integrated collaborative medical practice. However, current teaching of public health to medical students varies in the European Region though an investment in multidisciplinary workforce is recognised essential to deliver high quality public health services. A recent medical education curricula restructuring in the University of Porto Medical School resulted in the inclusion of a Public Health module linking academic teaching to field practice and provided the opportunity to make an initial appraisal of students' perceptions.

Case study: We analysed final reports (n = 196), debriefing meetings notes (n = 2), and e-mails sent by students (n = 34) regarding the activities they observed or participated at, their contact with Public Health services' teams, knowledge and critical appraisal, and opinion about the module. Students gained basic knowledge about how epidemiological surveillance, environmental health, health planning, and health promotion are performed in practice. They reported a better understanding of the roles and importance of Public Health services and its teams. Most considered that this module had an important role in their training. Some activities observed in the field lacked the needed standardisation to provide the students the feeling that core operations were experienced, which needs to be addressed in the future.

Conclusions: Public Health practice-based training within field institutions may bring a better understanding of the discipline and specialty for medical students. It may strengthen interconnectivity and coordination of healthcare agents, which may improve future medical practice with potential improvement of patient-centred care and in terms of public health response, and back their roles as health agents and decision-makers.

Keywords: Competency-based education; Medical education; Public health; Public health practice.