On Tuesday 21st February, we held an event at St Anne’s College, Oxford, launching our two new MSc in Evidence-Based Health Care programmes: MSc in EBHC Medical Statistics, and MSc in EBHC Systematic Reviews. For this event we had the great privilege to have two leaders in the field provide their perspectives: Prof. Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the Statistical Laboratory, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge; and Prof. Sir Iain Chalmers, one of the founders of the Cochrane Collaboration and coordinator of the James Lind Initiative.
To start off the afternoon, Prof. Richard Hobbs, Head of Department of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, gave an overview of the existing Evidence-Based Health Care programme, which is jointly run by the Primary Health Care department and the Department for Continuing Education, and currently has over 100 students on the programme from more than 30 countries across the world.
Prof Spiegelhalter challenged the audience to think more about how we communicate the findings from research to the public. One of the key messages from his talk was that there is a real lack of understanding of probability and how to best communicate it. Bringing this into schools so it is taught from a young age, and developing tools and resources for patients and journalists are some of the ways understanding of risk can be improved. His view on why we should bother to communicate well included a very salient point about “encouraging immunity to misleading anecdote”.
Prof. Richard Stevens, Course Director of the MSc in EBHC Medical Statistics then introduced the new MSc, highlighting all the exiting new modules that have been developed for this course, such as Big Data Epidemiology, advanced Meta-analysis, and Statistical Computing with R and Stata. Reflecting on the experience that many students of statistics might have had of being inundated with formulas and calculations, he noted that “You don’t have to teach statistics like this…a lot of it is advanced common sense.”
After more than 30 years of work on Systematic Reviews, Prof. Chalmers still talked about the importance of systematic reviews and the need for training, making the opening statement that “All plans for new research should begin and end with a systematic review of what is already known”. He also provided a fascinating insight into the history of systematic reviews, citing one review on assessing the mortality of natural smallpox compared to that given by inoculation, which is over 300 years old!
Dr. Kamal Mahtani, Course Director of the MSc in EBHC Systematic Reviews, introduced his overview of the course with a quote from Dr. Ben Goldacre: “The notion of systematic review – looking at the totality of evidence – is quietly one of the most important innovations in medicine over the past 30 years”. As one of the founding principles of Evidence-based Medicine is to use the best available evidence to inform decisions made by patients and clinicians, he noted that “all health researchers should begin their training by preparing at least one systematic review”, and the new MSc will provide students with training not only in the fundamentals of systematic reviews, but going on to a variety of methodologies, such as Realist Reviews and Realist Evaluations, and Complex Reviews.
With such fantastic speakers and plenty of time after the talks for debate and discussion over drinks, the event left us feeling energised and very excited to be offering these new MSc programmes. We are looking forward to welcoming our first cohort of students starting in October 2017.
Dr Annette Plüddemann is the Course Director for the MSc in Evidence-Based Healthcare. Applications for 2017/2018 close on 10th March 2017.