Studying Public Health online – Anita’s story

Anita, from Uganda, graduated from Public Health by Distance Learning. She tells us about her experience on the programme and how she appreciated the support she received from her peers while studying.
Anita Kabarambi

Please explain a bit about your academic/professional background  

My first degree was a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, before completing MSc Public Health by distance learning in 2018. I have been practicing as a medical doctor in Uganda for the past 11 years and have also actively been involved in medical research. I am currently working at the Medical Research Council, Uganda Virus Research Institute and LSHTM’s Uganda Research Unit.

I have worked on HIV research projects looking at various opportunistic infections like tuberculosis and cryptococcal meningitis, some of which have impacted policy changes. I have also been involved in HIV prevention research looking at the Dapivirine Vaginal Ring which has received a positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency to be used as a HIV prevention option for women who are at substantial risk, a decision the World Health Organization has welcomed. I am now currently involved in HIV vaccines research.

Why did you choose to study your course at LSHTM?  

I chose to study at LSHTM because it is one of the leading institutions in training public health specialists and my dream had always been to study there.

How did you hear about the programme?  

I got to know about the programme from my colleagues who had studied there. I also took a lot of time to read more about it on the LSHTM website. 

What were your favourite aspects of the programme?  

My favourite aspect of the programme was the flexibility. I did my training by distance learning which meant that I could continue to do my job and earn a salary, while using my free time for studying.  

I also loved the support and I felt the way the programme was designed was more engaging and motivating than previous face-to-face trainings I have done. When I enrolled on the distance learning programme, I was worried that it would be about reading on my own, but this was not the only thing. Materials were always available on Moodle as well as past papers with guidance on how to answer exam questions. There were also discussion forums where the module organisers supported students through collaborative sessions. The textbooks were sent on time and we had all that we needed. I just loved that because it motivated me to study even harder. 

How has the programme helped you in your career?  

The programme has made me more appreciative of medical research, especially after taking the project module. I understand the various aspects of medical research better and I am volunteering as an alumni mentor for students doing the project module for MSc Public Health. I can now sit and think of a problem and develop a protocol. I am also looking forward to doing a PhD in epidemiology in the future. 

What have you been doing since graduation? 

After graduation, I went on to do a fellowship in adolescent health research where I got skills in doing research among young people independently, with the help of mentors. I hope to build my research career focusing on adolescents as this is something I am passionate about.  I have written a research concept from an idea I got during my fellowship and hope to apply for some funding to do the pilot work and build a bigger research proposal.  

I also wrote up my MSc project work which was published last month in the African Journal of AIDs Research and attended a manuscript writing course which has helped me in writing up some papers for publication. 

My favourite aspect of the programme was the flexibility. I did my training by distance learning which meant that I could continue to do my job and earn a salary, while using my free time for studying.

What skills did you gain from studying this programme?  

I learnt self-discipline and motivation which helped me to get about and read without anyone roll-calling to check that I had been studying. I have always been a shy person and have always kept to myself but through this course, I have learnt to speak to people and engage with others to find solutions to problems. Finally, I feel more confident as a researcher, using the knowledge and skills I got from the programme. 

Were you able to connect with other students?  

Our group had students from various countries and settings which was such a great experience to come together and have discussions. I was able to connect with other students through the discussion forum and email. We even had a discussion group on Skype for one of the modules. 

What advice would you give to someone considering studying your programme at LSHTM?  

I would highly recommend them to apply for the programme and encourage them to plan early, especially those doing distance learning. Make use of the materials on Moodle and read the textbooks and above all, use the discussion forums as these were so helpful. If others have done it, then it is possible to do it. Go for it! 

Please sum up your experience of studying by distance learning with LSHTM 

I had a great experience studying by distance learning at LSHTM. I would read at my own pace. This gave me an opportunity to remain working and to be available for my family as my children were very young. I even had a baby during this time but it did not affect my studies as I continued to study from home. The challenge was making time to study. I would tend to postpone reading for evenings when all work was done and most times I was exhausted. 

I overcame this challenge by joining discussion groups with students doing a similar module and we would give ourselves targets for what to cover during the week. This helped me remain focused and I dedicated the first 2 hours of my day to self-study and the evenings to go through past papers, the discussion forum and listen to recordings on Moodle.