Academic Public Health training: Regional guidance for Academic and Educational supervisors and Public Health specialty registrars in the Severn Deanery

First draft produced 03/05/2011 (revised 24/05/2011) and approved by the RTC on 08/06/2011. The document was produced by Yoav Ben-Shlomo, Chris Hine, Paul Pilkington, Ken Stein, Kyla Thomas. Acknowledgements to Alan Cook and Severn Deanery for materials concerning supervisor training and the specialty registrars for their helpful comments.


With the development of Public Health training, changes in the DFPH and MFPH exam and the introduction of the ARCP and e-portfolio there has been a growing need to review the role of academic supervisors (this term is equivalent to the term “trainers”). These changes have in some cases resulted in confusion concerning the respective roles of academic and service supervisors as well as some concern that there has been a loss in academic rigour and training with the adoption of the MFPH exam instead of the old style two project mini-thesis. The training programme Director therefore felt it was appropriate to bring together representatives from the various academic units to clarify and provide guidance for all relevant parties. In particular informal feedback from specialty registrars highlights that some specialty registrars are either unsure as to what is reasonable to expect from their academic supervisors or in some cases too intimidated to ask. Similarly, there is some anecdotal evidence that educational supervisors are sometimes less supportive of academic training than they should be. We hope this guidance document will act as a useful tool to facilitate discussions between academic supervisors, specialty registrars and educational supervisors and thereby maximise the educational value of any academic training. However the rhetoric will only be translated into reality if all parties actually use these materials as the basis for their discussions and reports.

What is academic Public Health training?

All specialty registrars require a core understanding and skills in academic Public Health. This will usually cover topics such as epidemiology, statistics, health services research, health economics, research governance etc. A large amount of this training will occur as part of a formal masters programme. However, it is assumed that further learning opportunities, both “informal” and formal will occur across all phases of training. In particular, the application of theoretical knowledge and skills to everyday public health problems. It is the role of the academic trainer to support these activities, identify learning and training opportunities (for example by attendance on a short course), and provide guidance concerning the balance between academic rigour and the practicalities of a demanding service job.

Who are academic supervisors?

The Severn Deanery currently has three academic centres: University of Bristol (UoB), University of the West of England (UWE) and the Peninsula Medical School (PMS). At each location there are a number of staff who have achieved registration as a public health specialist either through having completed formal Public Health training or through the portfolio route (referred to as “consultant academic supervisors”). In addition there may be other academic staff whose academic expertise is very relevant to Public Health training and who may therefore play a role in either project supervision or act as an academic trainer for specialty registrars who are located in service training posts (“non-consultant academic supervisors”). Specialty registrars who are either seconded to an academic department or formally based there as either an ACF or lecturer would have a consultant academic trainer as their lead trainer though may actually be working more closely with a non-consultant academic trainer depending on their piece of research. This is equivalent to being allocated an educational supervisor for a service location but working mainly with a service project supervisor. In the context of specialty registrars who are based in an academic centre, these roles are called ‘academic supervisor’ and ‘project supervisor’ hereon. This is an important distinction given the changes to the structure and quality assessment of training made in 2007.

Like other speciality training programmes, the Public Health programme is now designed and run to meet national requirements set out in the ‘Gold Guide.’ Progression through training is now assessed by ‘Annual Review of Competence Progression (ARCP) panels’ who look to academic, educational and project supervisors to play distinct roles in assessing evidence and providing reports on a specialty registrar’s progress.

Role of academic supervisors

According to Faculty guidance, Academic supervisors should show a commitment to training by:

  • Being readily accessible to the trainees for whom they have been appointed supervisor
  • Regularly attending educational and supervisor development events and Faculty and Regional training conferences
  • Assessing the learning needs of trainees attached to them on an individual basis and drawing up a realistic and achievable learning plan with them
  • Using a written framework for training with regular review and constructive feedback
  • Being able and willing to identify and ensure delegation of appropriate tasks and responsibilities to the trainees
  • Facilitating learning opportunities not available locally to ensure exposure to achieve the full range of required learning outcomes.

Academic supervisors need sufficient knowledge of specialty public health training (as per the 2010 Curriculum) to enable them to support appraisal, assessment and annual planning, including:

  • Proposing training experiences consistent with the phase of training and individual learning needs
  • Assessing rate of progression through training against FPH expectations and milestones
  • Use FPH Curriculum criteria to assess whether a trainees has presented sufficient evidence for learning outcomes
  • Participate in the ARCP process by providing an annual report
  • Advising and supporting preparation for MFPH examinations
  • Identifying when a trainees is in difficulty and knowing how to respond.


The roles of academic supervisors and academic project supervisors in formal assessments

The project supervisor’s role in assessment is to assess the quality of work on a defined project and record this on the relevant project activity summary sheet (ASS). The educational supervisor’s role in assessment is to look at evidence from one or more activity summary sheets relating to a particular learning outcome. If they judge this sufficient to indicate that a learning outcome has been met, they note their assessment on the relevant WARS. In the academic context, project supervision could come from a trained academic supervisor or another member of staff able to provide supervision and assessment appropriate to the task. By contrast, the educational supervisor’s role of deciding whether learning outcomes have been met for key area nine (Academic Public Health) should be fulfilled by a fully trained academic supervisor (either consultant or non-consultant) who meets the role and knowledge requirements set out above.

Training for academic supervisors

All academic supervisors must have either completed the Deanery training modules or have their past training recognised by the Deanery to be eligible to be supervisors. In addition, it is expected that supervisors would continue to develop and refresh their training skills through attendance at the annual training conference or ad hoc workshops and modules organised by the Deanery or the Public Health training scheme. The core training requirements for educational supervisors are set out by Severn Deanery and are as follows:

  • Roles and Responsibilities of Educational Supervisors and an overview of the other key roles required in the training of doctors
  • Guidance on required trainee assessments
  • Appraisal processes and skills
  • Educational theory and practice
  • Annual Review of Competence Progression (ARCP) processes
  • Equality and Diversity (certificated)
  • Doctors in Difficulty

The training content for each of the above is set out in appendix one. New supervisors needing to cover all of the above can do so by attending two days of training plus recognition of a previously attended course for equality and diversity (or on-line training). Supervisors trained prior to the Severn Deanery statement of requirements will be able to gain exemption where appropriate.

Role of the Academic Public Health Lead (Specialty Tutor)

Within each of the three academic centres there is a nominated trainer who acts as the lead for that centre. This is equivalent to the specialty tutor at service locations. In the Severn Deanery the respective roles are currently held by Yoav Ben-Shlomo (UoB), Paul Pilkington (UWE) and David Melzer (PMS). They should have a “light touch” overview of all specialty registrars in their centre and will usually allocate supervisors to new specialty registrars. They may also be asked to review the academic needs of new specialty registrars who have either done a Masters a long time ago or have done an unconventional masters programme and so may require further training in some topics e.g. epidemiology. Specifically the Training Programme Director will seek the academic supervisor’s advice on meeting the specialty registrar’s learning needs for passing DFPH. The issue of whether such a specialty registrar is given a full five year or shortened (4/4.5 year contract) will need to be discussed with the educational supervisor and any recommendations made to the training programme director.

Additional supervisor support with difficulties in training at academic locations

It is important that both supervisor and specialty registrars understand their respective roles and duties. We believe the following guidance will facilitate this process by making it more explicit and standardised. However, there may be occasions where there are problems with this relationship or there may be conflicts of interest. It is therefore important that specialty registrars are aware of where to seek advice and help in these circumstances. The default person would be the Public Health lead at that location. If however this person is also the academic supervisor then there needs to be a second independent nominated supervisor, usually someone who is relatively experienced. We suggest that this is organised and agreed from the outset and that all parties are aware of this arrangement. Finally a specialty registrar can always seek advice from the training programme director.

Meeting between academic supervisor and specialty registrars

Frequency and purpose of meetings

We recommend that all specialty registrars meet their academic supervisors on at least three occasions over the year. One of these meetings should be a three-way meeting with the educational supervisor also being present. This is usually held before the ARCP meeting but could also be held immediately after as well. In general these meetings should be face-to-face but given the large distances involved in our Region, a teleconference meeting is acceptable. Specialty registrars should take responsibility for organising these meetings and academic supervisors should ensure that they make themselves available given reasonable advance notification. The purpose of these meetings is highlighted below. Some issues are generic and appear across all three phases of training whilst other phase-specific.

Topics to be addressed during Phase One:

  • MSc course – progress, areas of potential academic difficulty, potential topics or datasets for dissertation, consider whether the dissertation could be considered for publication
  • DFPH – help and support with topics that the specialty registrar may find difficult. Consider help with sample DFPH questions or marking mock papers
  • Review phase one competencies. For key area nine (Academic Public Health), sign off the WARS if sufficient evidence has been provided to meet the criteria (using the paper template or e-portfolio). (NB WARS sign off is otherwise the responsibility of the educational supervisor for other key areas)
  • Review need for any future courses (e.g. short course programme in Canynge Hall or other training courses at PMS or UWE) that the specialty registrar may wish to sign up for the future year.

Topics to be addressed during Phase Two:

  • Help with MFPH practice
  • Discuss career pathway – particularly if the specialty registrar wishes to consider an academic career
  • Discuss potential secondments or applications for lecturer post
  • Discuss how future service projects may provide educational opportunities to reinforce or practice academic skills e.g. analysis of routine survey data
  • Consider opportunities for teaching experience and possibly undertaking further teaching training

Review Phase Two competencies:

  • For key area nine (Academic Public Health), sign off the WARS if sufficient evidence has been provided to meet the criteria (using the paper template or e-portfolio)
  • Review need for any future courses
  • Review opportunities to present work to academic meetings either regionally or nationally
  • Consider opportunities for publication

Topics to be address during Phase Three:

  • Review Phase three competencies . For key area nine (Academic Public Health), sign off the WARS if sufficient evidence has been provided to meet the criteria (using the paper template or e-portfolio)
  • Discuss how future service projects may provide educational opportunities to reinforce or practice academic skills e.g. analysis of routine survey data
  • Review need for any future courses or educational secondments
  • Review opportunities to present work to academic meetings either regionally or nationally
  • Consider opportunities for publication
  • Consider opportunities for teaching experience

The role of the academic trainer ARCP report

All academic supervisors must complete a report prior to the ARCP. This should be written after a three-way meeting usually 4-6 weeks before the ARCP meeting itself. The current template is shown below.


COMMENTS Evidence should be given that is linked to the evidence provided by the trainees in their portfolio(add additional sheets if necessary)




RECOMMENDATIONS (state where special attention should be given in future)



It is our experience that academic reports can be rather superficial and not truly highlight both positive achievements and any training gaps that have been identified. It is not always clear how these will be resolved over the forthcoming year. This makes it hard for the ARCP panel to know how well the specialty registrar and supervisors have planned activities to maximise learning opportunities.

An exemplar report

We suggest the academic supervisor’s report should consider and address the following issues after the supervisor and specialty registrar have had a satisfactory review and discussion with the educational supervisor about the forthcoming year.

Review of previous year (assuming this is not the first report it is important that any previous recommendations are followed-up):

  • X has had a very good year and should be congratulated for passing their DFPH on their first attempt. They have completed all 5 Phase 1 competencies in key area 9. I was particularly impressed with their systematic review that they submitted for their dissertation. This work, if extended with a formal meta-analysis is original and in my opinion suitable for publication. I would suggest that X discusses this further with their MSc project supervisor for that piece of work who can provide more academic support.

Document any formal academic training courses:

  • Over the last year X has attended the MPH at the LSHTM. They have therefore not attended any other courses though have occasionally been to academic seminars at the UoB

Document past meetings with specialty registrar:

  • We have met on three occasions over the last year (July 2010, Nov 2010, March 2011). The second meeting was done over the telephone for reasons of convenience. In addition there has been occasional email communications.

Highlight training opportunities and needs for forthcoming year:

  • I would highly recommend that X goes on the one week short course at Canynge Hall on Systematic reviews and meta-analysis. This will provide X with the relevant skills and confidence to undertake their meta-analysis. I would be happy to help if there are any academic queries and we can facilitate access to stata software if this is an issue.
  • Over the next year, X and their educational supervisor have identified a project around the high rate of teenage pregnancies in their local area. As part of this project X will be designing and undertaking a school based survey. This will provide an excellent opportunity to consider the validity of data collection and then the analysis of responses based on various socio-demographic factors (this will be used to complete learning outcome 7.2 for phase 2). I would be happy to advise on the questionnaire design and analytical strategy. If the specialty registrar needs further experience with multi-variable regression analysis, then I would recommend they read the following textbook and consider attending the two day regression methods short course. This piece of work, once completed, would be ideally suited for an oral presentation at the Regional Public Health conference and I would encourage them to submit an abstract for this meeting.
  • We are also currently looking for specialty registrars to help with our Public Health teaching for the 4th year medical students. This runs four times a year and it would be sensible for X to observe the next session done by Dr. Z. Then, once they have gone over the materials, they could deliver this on the next rotation. They could also register for a teaching course, in which case I would be happy to act as their learning mentor.

Consider future career:

  • X currently hopes to become a Public Health consultant and does not have any specific academic aspirations. However, they may be interested to spend six months on an academic secondment in phase 3 of their training so that they can work with Prof Y., as he has a specific interest in teenage health issues which is a topic that X would like to learn more about. I have recommended they speak to Prof. Y and plan out what the learning objectives would be for such a secondment. This can then be factored into their longer term training programme assuming the ARCP panel feel they are making good progress.

The inter-relationship of academic and educational supervisors

It is common that educational and academic supervisors meet infrequently to discuss their specialty registrar’s progress. This is unfortunate as both supervisors would gain a more holistic impression of the specialty registrar’s strengths and weakness by discussing how the specialty registrar functions in different settings. In addition, it is essential to plan the academic component of any service project from the outset. Too often a specialty registrar will go to see their academic trainer for help after a project is complete. In this case if there is a design issue it is too late to alter things and the work may be seriously compromised. We believe that the joint discourse between educational and academic supervisors with the specialty registrar brings added dimensions to planning future training opportunities that is of real value. It also encourages mutual respect for the roles of both supervisors. Some supervisors can have “stereotypical views” of their counter-parts which is not usually justified. This is important as all supervisors implicitly act as role models for specialty registrars. Hence an educational supervisor who feels that “ivory-tower” academic supervisors are out of touch with service work may give negative signals to their specialty registrar about academia. Similarly an academic supervisor may give a negative impression that all service work is “quick and dirty” and has little value. By discussing projects together, specialty registrars will get some experience of the real-world tensions of undertaking service work whilst still maintaining academic quality given the limitations imposed within the service setting. This is a useful educational experience in its own right.



The nature and opportunities for academic training in Public Health are constantly changing. Despite repeated re-organizations of public services, knowledge and skills in academic public health remain fundamentally important to Public Health specialist practice. Given General Medical Council regulation, the new FPH curriculum and continuing changes to public services it is essential that the training programme reviews how it delivers this aspect of training. We believe that the specialty registrar should play a key role in ensuring that they get the relevant training but this is dependent on all parties having a clear understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities and the support available to help them meet current standards for Public Health training and supervision.