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System Dynamics for Health Sciences

University of the Witwatersrand via edX


Effective and meaningful engagement with complex modern medical systems requires an overarching set of tools.

System dynamics is such a tool, allowing health practitioners to model and simulate problems ranging from the molecular level to the entire healthcare system and beyond. This introductory course will teach you the fundamental principles of system dynamics as you learn how to use system dynamics software to explore problems relevant to your field of health. Whether you work in molecular biology, clinical medicine, health policy, or any other health-related field, this course will equip you to investigate the effects of time delays, feedback and system structure. You will learn how to interpret the causes of typical system behaviors such as growth, decay and oscillation in terms of the underlying system properties, and to rapidly develop computer-based models and run simulations to gain insight into the problems in your domain.

This course will empower you with a deeper understanding and an enhanced capacity to achieve useful interventions in healthcare.


Week 0: Welcome to the course Week 1: Causal Loop Diagrams; Levels and rates; Developing and running a simple Vensim model; The nuts and bolts of Vensim's basic calculation; Visual integration and differentiation Week 2: Zero-order systems; First-order systems Week 3: Feedback; Modeling epidemics; A simple model of a bioreactor – a system dynamics example Week 4: Pharmacokinetics; Clearance; Single compartment model of dialysis; Two-compartment model of dialysis Week 5: Obesity - a system dynamics example Week 6: Second-order systems, Lookup tables, Conclusion

Taught by

David Rubin, Tak Igusa and Robyn Letts


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