Student sitting under a tree Hi there! I’m Amana, a first year studying Population Health and Medical Sciences here at Swansea. There are a variety of undergraduate degrees available at the medical school and Population Health is one of the newest editions with the first cohort of students now in their final year!

What is Population Health?

It is the interdisciplinary approach to improving physical and mental health outcomes, promoting wellbeing and reducing health inequalities according to the NHS.

We learn about health from many different aspects such as medical sciences, social sciences, public health, epidemiology and more.

Many factors affect the health of a group of individuals such as social, economic and environmental factors. As well as lifestyle, public policies and the healthcare systems we have access to.

Studying this course gives you a broad view of health and factors affecting it. Contrary to popular belief, you are not completely in charge of your health. Determinants such as where you were born, live and work play a role in your health outcomes.

Why I love the subject?

The Population Health degree shares may aspects of the medical sciences modules with the other undergraduate degree programmes in the medical school. We then branch off into smaller classes to focus more closely on population health specific modules which are taught in a discussion style with small classes which are thoroughly enjoyable!

Also, it is a Pathways to Medicine course for those interested. However, the growing field of Population Health research is an incredible career opportunity from jobs in many varying fields. We are affiliated with the National Centre for Population Health and Wellbeing Research to expand your choices even more. To top it all off, we have the advantage of having a medical sciences side – so even more options!

How studying Population Health has helped me understand the Coronavirus

It seems there is no better time to be studying Population Health than now with the ongoing pandemic. You may have seen Population Health specialists on the news, but what is the importance?

Population Health focuses on the health of groups of individuals, thousands of people have suffered from Covid-19 with millions being impacted by it.

As a student, you learn to understand the government policies and strategies to minimise impact, for example the biggest feat during this epidemic is the global lockdown. Containing the virus is essential, but what is the impact? Livelihoods to education, everything has been affected.

How our occupation affects us

Individuals are more affected or susceptible due to their health inequalities. This can be essential healthcare or grocery store workers who are exposed to the virus every day simply due to their occupation. However, we saw in the news that many other people are still commuting to work, but why?

These people are typically the service sector. The public is no longer using various services such as taxis and cleaners, as a result they are finding it very difficult to get by. The ‘hand-to-mouth’ workers, they are forced to work in order to provide their families with food. Many do not have sufficient savings and require daily wages to survive. These are some examples of health inequalities. Read this article about how some families are struggling to cope during this time.

Where we live impacts our health too

There has been a huge variation in how different countries implemented strategies to handle the Covid-19 outbreak. Two examples I will mention is China and UK. In order to overcome the virus, transmission needed to be reduced.

The first factor was how quickly China went into lockdown at the end of January, but the UK followed at the end of March, two whole months later.

Another factor is the proactive measures that China implemented including rigorous tracking, surveillance, rewards and punishments for adhering to the rules and extensive testing – many areas that the UK has been unable to do.

As a result of this, the UK is still in lockdown and sadly the death toll is steadying as oppose to decreasing whereas deaths in China have reached an all-time low since the pandemic began.

These are further examples of how our area of residence can impact on our health.

Issues caused by the pandemic

By studying Population Health, you become more aware of the enormous social issues created such as many people now living in social isolation, cut off by travelling restrictions. Families are at risk of severe food poverty. Unfortunately, severely ill patients were not allowed to visit their loved ones in their final moments, although this has now been altered. There have been many secondary ‘knock on’ effects.

But not all is bad. Communities have come together now more than ever to provide each other support. Food banks have seen a rise in the use but also providing of food support. We appreciate our NHS health heroes and other essential workers more than ever, clapping on Thursdays to show our gratitude. As a member of the Pop Med committee, we have worked in collaboration with the Applied Medical Sciences to create a virtual NHS charity week to fundraise for frontline protective equipment and we have seen tremendous support!

Nonetheless, as a country we have much to learn from this experience. From not taking our blessings for granted to implementing preventative proactive techniques to stop diseases spreading to this extent. Studying this degree enables you to explore many health issues and how they affect groups of individuals.

We shall see what the future holds. When will these restrictions be lifted? And more importantly, when will life get back to normal?

Stay safe,

Amana Baig