Interested in Tropical Medicine but don’t have 3 months to take off to do residential courses in London or Liverpool? – Glasgow University’s part-time course may be just what you are looking for. Even if you’ve never considered a diploma before, if you plan to work in the developing world or want to consolidate your knowledge and obtain a recognised and respected qualification, the DTM&H is definitely worth considering. Here, course organiser Professor Mike Barrett introduces the course and recent graduate Staff Writer Hannah Evans gives us her personal verdict.
When comparing the causes of death in different parts of the world it is clear that there are great inequalities. Here in the developed world cardiovascular disease and cancer are the primary causes of death with most people living to a relatively old age. In the developing world, by contrast, infectious diseases continue to dominate death statistics. Most of these diseases are preventable.
However, economic inequalities have ensured that these tropical infectious diseases remain central to health problems in developing countries. In the nineteenth Century the term “Tropical Medicine” was coined to describe the speciality of looking at these diseases. During the period when European Powers were actively colonising far flung parts of the world Tropical Medicine took on great significance. The Scottish Physician, Sir Patrick Manson, often considered to be “the father” of Tropical Medicine, founded the London School of Tropical Medicine in 1899 a year after a school of Tropical Medicine had been founded in Liverpool. Today, Tropical Medicine remains an important topic, but is rarely taught as part of medical curricula in UK-based medical schools. However, a number of specialist diploma courses are available where doctors can learn about diseases specifically associated with tropical environments. Both the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine run residential courses each year which end with an examination leading to the award of a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (DTM&H).
The University of Glasgow also runs a course. Unlike the London and Liverpool courses, however, the Glasgow course is non-residential and taught on a part-time basis. The course was designed specifically to enable doctors who were not able to take the three months away from work required to sit the residential courses. The Glasgow course is taught between late October and mid March with weekly lectures held on a Wednesday evening. Two weeks of practical work and several weekend sessions are also incorporated to give students as broad an education as possible. Once the course is completed students can sit the DTMH examination offered by the Royal College of Physicians in London.
There’s no question that the course is hard work. It is impossible to cover the entire curriculum in depth given the part time nature of the course. Students, therefore, are obliged to spend long evenings of independent study to cover everything in the depth needed. However, since the students have chosen to join the course aware of the circumstances most find the motivation to engage in the slog and the vast majority go on to sit and pass the exam.
Teaching involves a range of lecturers from the University of Glasgow, the National Health Service and also individuals shipped in from many places including Vietnam and Switzerland. Lectures include topics such as malaria, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, the leishmanises, filariases, schistosomiasis, intestinal protozoa, cholera, leprosy, tropical mycology, viral hepatitis, tropical public health, dermatology, STIs, rabies, vector biology, tropical ophthalmology, onchocerciasis, hydatid disease, dengue and other hemorrhagic viral diseases.
Other sessions focus on maternal health, non-communicable diseases in the tropics and guest lecturers speak about government policy in tropical diseases, non-governmental organisations and their role in the tropics, vaccination and other topics. Practical work involves learning the basics of microscopy and the University has a collection of slides of parasites and other specimens including arthropods and parasitic helminths.
A very important part of the course, with respect to the examination has been to spend a couple of days at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before the exam, where our colleagues kindly demonstrate a number of specimens from which those chosen for the exam itself are taken.
The course is supported by a website where lectures and a range of other reading material is available. Students attending the course come from far and wide. In the 2013-14 session we had one student based in Paris (lectures are streamed on line, hence it is possible to attend remotely, although attendance in person for the practical weeks where possible is recommended). Others come from as far away as Inverness in the North of Scotland and Carlisle to the south. The course runs with the specific aim of allowing doctors with a fascination in tropical medicine to learn about these diseases and obtain the DTMH. Many will go on to take placements working in the tropics; others will be able to use their knowledge to enrich their contribution to Infectious disease units. There’s no doubt that the course requires hard work, but generally speaking students find the course immensely rewarding.
I had aspirations to do the diploma for years before I finally decided to go for it. I became aware of the ‘Glasgow way’ of doing it by word-of-mouth from an infectious diseases trainee friend. Success on the course definitely depends on your ability to be an independent learner for the most-part, however the two weeks of concentrated teaching in Glasgow allow you to meet like-minded people and receive some enthusiastic teaching from highly qualified and approachable lecturers.
This course is not and cannot be comprehensive, but has good broad coverage to highlight important areas, with many excellent and interesting speakers, clinicians from the front line with a lot of expertise in their fields and top scientists. Mike puts a lot of personal effort into it, as do his colleagues, who are always obliging and helpful.
Being based close to Glasgow is definitely an advantage, as that makes attending the weekly lectures and extra practical sessions whilst working, logistically easier. The timetable is given out with plenty of notice to enable organising leave and swapping shifts to attend.
The course uses a virtual learning environment to deliver lectures, store notes and resources and provide a forum for discussion, which proved a valuable information centre. The only thing that could have been improved on in the view of last year’s students was the speed within which lectures and Powerpoint slides went online. I was reasonably reliant on weekly lecture streaming, living 3 hours away from Glasgow and rarely being able to make the Wednesday evenings due to work commitments.
Cost wise, I felt the course was great value at £1600 (2013-2014 price) plus an exam fee payable to the Royal College of Physicians (around £215). You don’t have to sit the exam and a course fee without guaranteed exam place is available.
Overall this is a great way to gain knowledge, confidence and a broad grounding in Tropical Medicine on a part-time basis whilst making some great, like-minded friends and becoming more confident about working as a clinician in the developing world.
For more information visit the Glasgow DTMH Webpage.
For specific questions and enquiries contact Professor Mike Barrett