Monday, April 03, 2017

Online postgraduate diplomas and degrees

When I pass my Exit Examination for the Hong Kong College of Family Physicians, I plan to take a postgraduate course to get a masters. This is not to extend the letters after my name, which we were jokingly told during our undergraduate studies. It is so I can fully understand the subject so I can put it into practice and help me to get into the fields I plan to go into the future.

With the improvement of technology, learning online has started to become the norm. Major universities are waking up to this and started to offer numerous postgraduate diplomas and degrees. Naturally you will lose the face-to-face interaction and any practical aspect which comes with the subject. However many people work full time and cannot take time off to attend a full time course. Even if the course is part-time, you have to consider travelling time and money. Some online course off an intensive teaching period, which you could attend during your annual leave.

I have been focussing on three main areas of study which I'm interested in - Family Medicine, Medical Education and Public Health. Below are the three main course I plan to take, with the other courses I took into consideration and why chose the particular course. Fees mentioned are for international students, so local students will be considerably cheaper.

I wanted to take a course which further develops my family medicine skills and knowledge. Our own college (Hong Kong College of Family Physicians) offers a certificate/diploma course. That one is primarily aimed at private doctors who are not specialising in anything, even Family Medicine, to show they have some skills in the area. Hong Kong Baptist University offers a postgraduate diploma / masters in primary care in conjunction with the University of Western Sydney. However the Baptist University doesn't have its own medical school, just a school of nursing and a private hospital, which means they don't have their own dedicated academic staff to teaching this subject. The medical teaching will likely come from private doctors or remotely from the University of Western Sydney.

There are two universities which offer online courses in this area apart from Glasgow. The University of Edinburgh has a masters of science course in Family Medicine. They have the best ranking amongst the universities here, placing 23rd in the QS World University Rankings in Medicine 2017. However the course at Edinburgh requires two periods of two weeks where they require face-to-face teaching at the university. That will require me to take annual leave and getting two weeks off is very difficult. Monash University use to offer a Masters of Family Medicine but have changed the title to Masters in Advanced Primary Health Care Practice. Monash is ranked 29th, so they aren't a bad medical school. The course details are somewhat vague but the real killer to this cost is price.

Monash will cost HKD 17,766 more than Glasgow, which is GBP 1800+ or USD ~2300 more. If Edinburgh didn't require me to attend face-to-face teaching, I would have taken their course. It is just GBP 297 than Glasgow, which is HKD ~2900 or USD 370+. I know I can afford the differences but it is not worth it. Glasgow is only ranked ten places lower than Monash, at 39th place, and I feel the University of Glasgow name carries slightly more value than Monash University's name.

2. Masters in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Public Health is a subject where the whole content can be delivered online, since the content is mostly theory or non-practical based. Since this is the case, and public health schools are quite prevalent, there are many universities which offer this course online. Below are the universities which offer the course 100% online, except the Hong Kong universities which I have included as they are possible options for me. Ranking is based on US News 2017 rankings for Best Global Universities for Social Sciences and Public Health.

This decision is no brainer. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (or LSHTM) has the best ranking and is the cheapest university with a ranking in the top 100. Sheffield is cheaper but is ranked 118 places below LSHTM. The cheapest university with a ranking is Essex, which Staffordshire offers the cheapest out of all universities. I have the option of completing the course at more leisurely pace. Most schools intend for you to complete their masters in two years, while LSHTM allows you a maximum of five years. Another point which is not displayed in the table is that I can take their course by modules alone and don't have to do a dissertation or project, which a lot of the other courses require you to perform.

I would like to take this opportunity to make my point on differences between nations. UK offers the cheapest courses by far. Hong Kong offers similarly priced courses but you have to factor in the travel time and cost. However I would get Continuous Medical Education points if I attend the Hong Kong courses.

Next comes Australia, with the cheapest course coming from the University of Tasmania and the highest ranked course coming from Monash. Yet Tasmania is HKD 29,250 (GBP 4,900+, USD ~3400) and Monash is HKD 96,215 (GBP ~9,900, USD ~12,400) more expensive than LSHTM. 

USA is much more expensive than UK. The cheapest course is Florida (Difference between LSHTM: HKD 94,030, GBP ~6,600, USD 8,200+) and the highest ranked is North Carolina (Difference between LSHTM: HKD 403,000, GBP 41,000+, USD ~52,000). Most ridiculously is Southern California (or USC as it is more famously known), which is eye-poppingly priced at USD 81,541. That would be half year's salary if I was still working full time. How would they even attract international students with that figure? 

3. Masters in Health Professions Education, University of Glasgow
I eventually would like teach in some capacity, to trainees or medical students. Some part of the reason why is to feed my ego, to feel important, but mainly I do want better trained doctors (I have a whole blog entry I could write regarding improperly trained or not trained doctors).

The degrees come under a few names: Medical Eduction, Clinical Education, Health Professions Education. I've grouped into the same category since the content will be similar, if not the same. Like Public Health most of the course knowledge and theories are non-practical based. So you wouldn't lose so much between delivering the course online or face-to-face.

This is the one course I had difficulty choosing. There were many course I could select but I narrowed the options down to four universities. The other universities were either too expensive or didn't have a good ranking in either medicine or education.

Melbourne, even though a very highly ranked medical school, isn't worth the extra added cost. Edinburgh would have been my choice since the degree has already been approved as a quotable qualification in Hong Kong. However the course is research oriented, which I rather avoid. Glasgow has the nice balance of being a well ranked medical school with a reasonable price course. 
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