Studying Public Health online – Fiona’s story

Fiona, from Ireland, is a first-year Public Health by Distance Learning student. She tells us how studying while working is helping her to apply her learnings to her current role while continuing to gain professional experience.
Fiona O'Driscoll

Please explain a bit about your academic/professional background

I've always been interested in health and graduated with a degree in medicine from Trinity College Dublin. After initially working as a doctor, I chose to learn more about the wider health care ecosystem and have been working for over 2 years in management consulting, primarily in the health sector. Working in this area has given me the opportunity to apply the skills learnt from medicine, such as problem-solving and relationship building, to a wide range of areas and problems.

Why did you choose to study your course with LSHTM? 

The reputation of LSHTM as a centre of excellence in the area of public health drew me to the School, along with the flexibility of the distance learning programme. I wanted to benefit from LSHTM’s lecturers and tutors who have international research experience, learn from colleagues around the world and be part of a diverse and global alumni network. The opportunity to study flexibly and the autonomy that it allows me is also a major benefit as I can apply my learnings to my current role while continuing to gain professional experience. The programme also enables flexibility to choose the number of modules I study each year and to study at a pace which suits me to complete the master's (between 2-5 years). 

How did you hear about the programme? 

I was interested in pursuing a master’s in Public Health and reached out to someone who had previously attended LSHTM. The high praise they gave the university spoke volumes, not only for its teaching but also the opportunity to meet and engage with colleagues from all over the world. 

What have been your favourite aspects of the programme? 

Given that the course is delivered through distance learning, I really enjoy the 'Collaborate' sessions, which are live webinars where we can interact with tutors and ask questions. This helps to cement the learning gained through independent study and adds a more human aspect to the teaching. In particular, I find it interesting when the lecturers provide insight on their current or previous research to provide further context on the topics we are discussing. 

The content has also been fascinating, with a personal favourite being the Principles of Social Research module. Having undertaken qualitative research at work where I also have many psychologist colleagues, I loved learning about the importance of a social science approach in medical research and the role it plays in answering complex health questions. This is particularly relevant in the Public Health course where many problems are rooted in human behaviour and a multidisciplinary approach is needed to understand more about them. 

The additional materials that have been developed for LSHTM students to utilise outside of the course content have been helpful tools to understand the context in which health occurs and provide a more holistic education. For example, the Decolonising Global Health and Black Lives Matter lecture series provides insight on the relationship between colonial history and global health. 

I really enjoy the 'Collaborate' sessions, which are live webinars where we can interact with tutors and ask questions. This helps to cement the learning gained through independent study and adds a more human aspect to the teaching.

What skills have you gained from studying this programme? 

The ability to manage both study and work whilst maintaining a healthy balance is a skill I've developed during the programme. Adaptability and coping with change is such an important part of our lives now and getting used to this while studying has been challenging at times. It’s something that will continue to change over the course of several years as I complete the master's, but I keep reminding myself that it’s a marathon not a sprint! 

What advice would you give to a student about to begin their studies with LSHTM? 

Take each day as it comes and don't get overwhelmed by the content. By working consistently throughout the year, you will learn more than you realise! While it is difficult to balance work and study, try to make the most of the resources provided by LSHTM and the alumni network. This will make the journey more interesting and engaging and benefit you in the long run. 

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

A challenge of the distance learning course has been connecting with fellow students, who are across the world and in many different time zones. This is much harder than it would be for the intensive programmes. To combat this, it’s important to reach out to fellow students online and work to develop a virtual network. Try to attend online networking events to get to know others and reach out to them on social media. It’s difficult and can feel much less organic than meeting people in person, but that is always a challenge with the distance learning course. It may become a feature of all our lives now as more people work and study from home. 

Tell us a bit about you – what do you do when you’re not working or studying? 

When I'm not studying or working, you'll find me trying to hit my 10,000 steps a day in my local park listening to a true-crime podcast. Before COVID-19 I loved to travel, but at the moment I am exploring my own backyard and enjoying the local parks and walks in the area. I love hearing where other LSHTM students are based around the world and hopefully will be able to meet them in person in the future!