Monday, August 11, 2014

Wait, What is Public Health?

I get asked a lot what I do/where I work/what I'm in school for. When I tell people that I work at the state health department and that I'm in school getting my Master of Public Health, they usually say, "Oh, that's great! Wait… What is public health?" I spout out my 30 second spiel about how public health is about disease prevention, not disease treatment. I try to include some examples, and people nod their heads, except no one really seems to get it. So… What is public health?
Public Health Is:

o   The design and analysis of studies that examine whether a specific behavior leads to a specific disease. (Ex. Smoking à Lung Cancer)

o   The development, implementation, and evaluation of health programs and educational campaigns. (Ex. Comprehensive sex education, encouraging stair usage vs. elevator usage)

o   Looking at how environmental factors affect the health of a community.

o   Examining how and why a disease spreads through a population, then working to put an stop to it. (Ex. Ebola, HIV)

o   Collaborating with government officials and stakeholders to make changes to policies or the environment. (Ex. Having an area of land allocated to a city’s Parks Department to build a walking trail. Walking trails à more exercise à decreased risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.)

Public health has a lot to do with education and disease prevention on a community/population level, and less to do with the treatment of an individual’s disease. My Master of Public Health does not qualify me to be a certified nutritionist, a physical therapist, a personal trainer, a physician, or a pediatrician. There are other degrees for those. It does, however, qualify me to develop programs to prevent heart disease, but it does not quality me to treat heart disease once it develops. It qualifies me to design health campaigns promoting healthy eating choices, but it does not qualify me to design nutrition plans individualized to a given patient. It qualifies me to teach teenagers how to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STIs, but it does not quality me to prescribe the antibiotics needed to cure the bacterial infections or manage the viral infections if something goes wrong. That being said, some public health professionals also go to medical school and are qualified to treat disease as well as prevent it. I am just not one of them. (Sick people freak me out.)

Long story short, public health is everywhere...See?


  1. Very interesting! I've always wondered about this.

  2. Great explanation! So proud of you! Love, mom