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Prevention Centre serves as expert advisor on University of Tasmania MPH course

Dr Seanna Davidson

An innovative course in systems thinking developed with support from the Prevention Centre has become a core unit of the Master of Public Health at the University of Tasmania.

The course was developed by the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the University of Tasmania, with input from Prevention Centre systems experts. The content integrates some Prevention Centre systems projects being undertaken in Tasmania, including Prevention Tracker in Glenorchy and alcohol simulation modelling.

Content lead Michelle Morgan said her research had indicated the importance of building systems capacity in Tasmania as a key priority in her role as Healthy Communities Officer at the DHHS.

“Compared to traditional approaches, applying a systems approach enables health practitioners to see the big picture of a complex issue and its underlying causes in order to intervene more effectively,” she said.

Ms Morgan broached the idea of the course with the University of Tasmania, with which the DHHS has a partnership, in early 2016. The Director of Postgraduate Studies, Associate Professor Kate MacIntyre, quickly agreed and the first course was launched in July 2017.

The course, Systems Thinking in Public Health, goes beyond the narrow focus on select tools covered by many other systems courses. It integrates systems tools and practice within a framework for action, flowing from launching a project, to understanding the system, finding the points of leverage, intervening, learning and adapting.

Prevention Centre systems expert Dr Seanna Davidson provided guidance, peer review, quality assurance and mentoring throughout the development of the course. She said the course presented a good opportunity to influence future health practitioners to apply systems thinking practices and tools.

“Research identifies systems skills as a critical capacity of health practitioners for the future, and yet there are few comprehensive, practice-based courses that offer this training. The inclusion of systems thinking as core curriculum for the Master of Public Health is really quite innovative and exciting.”

Dr Davidson said the Prevention Centre had worked with the team to balance conceptual insights with applied practices.

“What distinguishes this course from other systems training is that the student works through an entire inquiry process – this was really key,” she said.

The course is delivered online by University of Tasmania public health lecturer, Dr Silvana Bettiol, along with Ms Morgan in an honorary lecturer role. A total of 45 students nationally completed the first semester. The course will run once a year and will be continually refined based on student feedback and developments in the field.

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