Doctoral student explores innovative methods for public health research

Amber D. Elkins, M.P.H.

Amber D. Elkins, M.P.H.

Amber D. Elkins, M.P.H., doctoral student with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, recently co-wrote an article with Dennis M. Gorman, Ph.D., detailing innovative methods for public health research using system sciences theory.

In “Systems Theory in Public Health,” published online on Oxford Bibliographies, Elkins and Gorman provide practical guidelines to researchers for the application of system science methods to public health research as an alternative to traditional research methods.

“The recognition of the complexity of many public health problems has led to the search for analytic methods capable of capturing more fully the underlying dynamic processes at work compared to traditional study designs and statistical tests,” said Elkins.

Dennis M. Gorman, Ph.D.

Dennis M. Gorman, Ph.D.

This search for methods that move beyond a simple linear cause-and-effect representation of the world has stimulated interest among public health researchers in analytic techniques that have been developed within the evolving field of system sciences. The bibliography focuses on the application of systems methods to a variety of public health problems including alcohol and drug use, smoking, obesity, violence and chronic disease. It examines the three system science methods that have found the greatest application in public health research to date: agent-based modeling, system dynamics modeling, and social network analysis.

Each method has strengths and weaknesses and each is better suited to studying some aspect of complex dynamic phenomena than others. The bibliography also provides a guide to the major platforms and software packages used in such research and highlights special editions of journals devoted to the application of systems methods to public health problems.

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