Education Highlight – KM Monirul Islam, MD, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology. His teaching focuses on clinical outcomes research, infectious disease epidemiology and pathophysiology of diseases; research of diseases, particularly infectious diseases; and clinical outcomes research of cancer. Dr. Islam regularly teaches CPH 623 / EPI 825 Infectious Disease Epidemiology and CPH 624 / EPI 825 Advanced Infectious Disease Epidemiology. He also teaches a special topics course in epidemiology focusing on infectious disease and cancer and has taught EPI 820 Theory and Applications in Epidemiology. Dr. Islam has been with the department for seven years.
Dr. Islam’s teaching philosophy is driven by the need to create an interactive learning environment, and he sees himself as a “guide.” He moves away from heavily didactic, one-way teaching toward a more engaged model where the teacher learns as well. This interactive, multi-way communication and learning is at the core of all his courses. Dr. Islam says, “Teaching itself is part of a learning process. As an instructor, I try to break down theory and method application so students can learn in a friendlier environment rather than through traditional, imposing one-way means. Communication has to be two ways. I am constantly learning from my students.” His teaching style also makes frequent use of examples to demonstrate concepts. “I find that students understand the material best when they see it for real—see it in real life examples. I make efforts to use examples everywhere I can. Public health students typically don’t have the solid biology background. Particularly in my courses where the biology of disease or pathophysiology are so critical to understanding infectious disease epidemiology, the uses of examples and demonstrations are all the more important,” says Dr. Islam. His best moments in the classroom have occurred when students with limited knowledge of biology and pathophysiology were able to properly understand the terminology and apply the tools of epidemiology appropriately.
Dr. Islam attributes the success of his courses to the use of high standard course materials and fostering a positive learning environment. “Public health work is in large part group or team work. I try to set a standard in the classroom that hopefully extends beyond it to a future workplace.” Dr. Islam uses a mixed approach to assessments, such as presentations, homework exercises, and quizzes. “Combination is good. It gives me a more complete picture of how they are learning than through large exams alone.” Asked why his courses are so important, Dr. Islam says, “You can apply these principles and methods [in my courses] to understand disease characteristics, risk behavior, the agents involved, and so on. You need to understand the transmission mode or immunological responses before you think about prevention and intervention for any infectious disease.” Dr. Islam says most students who focus on infectious disease epidemiology go on to careers in local health departments or to national and international organizations with epidemiological services. Globally, a career specialty in infectious diseases epidemiology is in high demand.