BACKGROUND : Education and training of undergraduate health science students in public health are insufficient in many parts of the world. This lack is a risk as early interest in specialist training options is a predictor of future training choices. A special interest group (SIG) is one mechanism to engage students, increase awareness and generate interest in public health. The purpose of this case study was to create and study such a group at an African university.
CASE PRESENTATION : An action research study design was used to create and
study the SIG. All interested students were invited to participate in the SIG and
in the data collection procedures. Data were collected via paper-based and
online questionnaires. Records of activities were documented, and a reflective
diary was kept by the researcher. Seven SIG meetings were held which were
less than planned—some sessions were cancelled due to general student unrest.
The composition of the SIG fluctuated, but the core group of 16 students consisted
of 12 females (75%) and 4 males (25%). Despite faculty-wide marketing, all the
participants were medical students. The most successful marketing strategy was
done by two lecturers. A total of 12 participants’ motivation (75%) was to learn
more about public health. Despite the range of participants being over 4-year
groups with varying schedules and commitments, a convenient day and meeting
time were identified. The social capital of lecturers was harnessed to invite external
guest lecturers as planned field trips proved impractical. At the mid-year point, six
students (38%) thought that they would consider public health as a career choice.
A decision was made to recruit new members via a seminar, and 37 possible new
members were identified in the process.
CONCLUSIONS : A SIG appears to be an effective strategy to increase public health interest among students. This finding is key in settings with particular health
workforce shortages and high burdens of disease. A foundation phase with high levels of academic support by those already qualified is needed to allow student
leadership to emerge. Despite the modified and reduced number of sessions, the
SIG was still successful in increasing awareness about public health and possible
career choices: both positive consequences of engaging with students within a SIG.