“Lies, damned lies and statistics”: A course review

The first module of our second semester was ‘Basic Epidemiology and Statistics’. There was a real mixture of experience with statistics in our class; some people had used statistical software daily in their jobs, whilst others hadn’t studied the subject since school. However, all of us appreciated the importance of this course, as a strong grasp of statistics is absolutely essential for anyone interested in a career in health!

What did the course cover?

The course promised, and definitely delivered, a thorough revision of basic statistical and epidemiological principles. We were taught to both perform and interpret statistical analyses ranging from McNemar’s test to linear and logistic regression. The course introduced frameworks, such as CONSORT and STROBE, for the evaluation of statistics in published literature and we became comfortable with the use of SPSS statistical software.

Interestingly this module is closely tied with the next two modules in the second semester. We were expected to use the quantitative skills we learnt in this course for the assignments in both ‘Health Outcomes Measurement’ and ‘Economic Evaluation of Health Care Programmes’.

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Course structure:

The course was 5 credits and ran over 3.5 weeks. It was structured slightly differently to previous courses, with lectures in the morning and then quantitative exercises on the same material in the afternoon to assess our understanding. A number of computer exercises were included, where we were given a real patient data set and required to perform the appropriate statistical analyses.

How were we assessed?

This module was assessed in two ways:

  • Group Assignment: We were separated into small groups and each given a peer-reviewed article to assess. Using the structure of the CONSORT and STROBE guidelines, we critically evaluated the papers’ choice of statistical methods and their interpretation of the results. We presented our findings to an ‘opponent’ group of classmates, with feedback from the course lead.
  • Individual Assignment: A further peer-reviewed article was provided for us to individually assess. We were required to submit a written critique of the internal and external validity of the study.

We were once again given marks according to the usual grading criteria: F (Fail) / G (Pass) / VG (Pass with distinction).

From the description above, this course might sound quite hard-going and perhaps not the most exciting. However, that is definitely not the case! The course lead was one of the most enthusiastic and passionate teachers we have had. As well as making the module enjoyable, it also impressed upon us just how important statistics really is!

Next up, ‘Health Outcomes Measurement’…

Please feel free to email me with any questions: eleanor.katherine.harrison@stud.ki.se

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