Fifty BSc (Hons) Medical Science students taking the second-year module Fundamentals of Epidemiology participated in a Live Brief with Norfolk County Council (NCC).
Tim Winters, NCC Head of Public Health Information (PHI), asked the students to use publicly available data to understand the local health system and investigate differences between areas, disease trends and populations, and to suggest improvements to help NCC target resources and reduce inequalities.
Tim says: 'The students’ fresh eyes on the problem provided a valuable different perspective, and will help our PHI team as they contribute to determining priorities in our regional cancer workstream.'
Students analysed complex data in detail
The students needed to examine and understand the Norfolk and Waveney area – the population structure and forecasts, inequality measures, summary lifestyle indicators – and look at the available statistics relating specifically to cancer in the area, including rates by age and risk factors, deaths and contribution to the life expectancy gap between most and least deprived.
'You've got an ocean of results and statistics available,' explains Dr Rudolph Schutte, Associate Professor and Course Leader for Medical Science at ARU, who led the brief.
'To be able to really crystallize something out of that space and address a research question is such a good skill.'
The Live Brief revealed an important insight
But this wasn’t just research in the name of academic learning – the students were able to reveal trends in the data that had gone unnoticed within the wealth of information.
'What Tim and his team didn't know is that smoking among 15 year-olds is rising in the area,' explains Dr Schutte.
'That is a valuable insight that his team hadn’t picked up yet and they can now think about addressing it.'
Positive impact of the Live Brief for NCC
Tim was involved in briefing the students in teaching week two; he returned to watch their presentations in week 12 and provided feedback.
'The Live Brief programme for a topic or problem is a useful way to collect additional insight that we may not have considered,' he says.
'Initially, we will be using some of the students' findings in a local needs assessment to better understand breast cancer screening requirements across Norfolk and Waveney.'
Benefits for students
'The Live Brief is such a good marriage,' Dr Schutte adds.
'Students are learning study, research and analytical skills; they are giving presentations and experiencing peer review, but they are doing it within a professional context, collating and crystallising already published data and building a story to address a valuable question.'
BSc (Hons) Medical Science student Mathuza Senthivel who took part in the Live Brief, says:
'Knowing that I was contributing to real-life research that could influence public health strategy was rewarding, but also insightful career-wise.
'I like looking at things holistically and understanding how they affect not just one group of people or one aspect of the human body; I like to look at the social impact, the financial impact.'
'This Live Brief allowed me to do that and definitely opened my eyes to a possible career in public health strategy and information.'
You can hear more from Mathuza in the video below.