Canadian doctors get primed in prevention and public health

A national group of public health educators has been working to enhance the understanding of population health principles by clinical health professionals. They have created an innovative e-textbook for medical students, the AFMC Primer on Population Health, which was just released by the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC). It is bilingual, freely available online ( and will be relevant to anyone who works in clinical settings as it sets out the core concepts of public health in a way that demonstrates their relevance to clinical medicine.

This is important because we increasingly recognize that high quality medical management takes account of each patient’s social and life circumstances and of the organisation of the health care system in which care is taking place. It requires management of the risks caused by the patient’s illness, lifestyle and social situation to control current health problems and to prevent future ones. Clinical health professionals also have an important role to play in collaboration with the public health system to protect their patients and communities from avoidable health problems. And yet, students generally have difficulty seeing the relevance of population health to their work with individual patients. The Primer was designed to help address this issue.

The Primer covers the objectives set out for Canadian medical students by the Medical Council of Canada, in three parts. Part one, Theory – Thinking about Health presents the core concepts in the population health approach. Part two, Methods – Studying Health sets out the techniques used in clinical studies. Part three, Practice – Improving Health explores public health practice with particular emphasis on how this connects to clinical medicine. Illustrative cases are woven into the text to show the connections between the health of individual patients and factors operating at the population level.

The Primer is co-edited by Denise Donovan from the Centre de formation médicale du Nouveau-Brunswick, Université de Sherbrooke and Ian McDowell of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine. Public health medical educators from all of Canada’s faculties of medicine, and students participated in the Primer’s development which was supported by AFMC and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

The AFMC and PHAC anticipate that the Primer will also be useful to other health professions and for continuing professional development. “The topics covered in the Primer are relevant to all clinicians, so we intentionally made the core content freely available under a Creative Commons license so it can be adapted for use by other groups,” noted Dr. Donovan.

Designed to facilitate online discussion, the Primer is intended to be a living text that will be continuously improved through user feedback and participation. Illustrative examples, videos and other resources from the Primer will be made available as teaching tools through the Public Health Education e-Community in the Canadian Healthcare Education Commons (

For more information:

Barbie Shore, Project Manager

The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada

(613) 730-0687 Ext. 235