What is Public Health?

CDC, public health, health, community, community health

A little background: 14, 18, 22

In high school I was the studious and well-rounded girl, and graduated at the top 10% of my class. High school is one of the most lame rite of passage any person has to take, and therefore, I hated high school. I hated missing class, I didn’t party, I didn’t like the kids too much, and I wasn’t interested in any of the guys. I wished I spent more time in high school developing skills and taking college courses.

In college I learned a lot, became more open minded, tried new things, and embraced new ideas. I became smarter, took chances, was more resourceful, and learned to be more efficient. I’m fortunate that my parents didn’t have to pay a dime towards college tuition, nor did I take out any loans. Scholarship and financial aid funded my college expenses, and left over money was used for personal expenses, my study abroad, and savings toward grad school. I also graduated in the top 10% as well. I know, bragging rights.

At 18, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and put down nursing as my major. I decided not to apply to the nursing program, and switched to public health and minor in business administration. After my bachelor’s degree, I was in full panic mode because I had no idea what was next. Luckily, I got a job and worked for about a year and I happily left that job. I knew I wanted to go back to school, and a Master’s degree was in my line of sight.

So what is public health?

Many students in their undergrad are public health majors without fulling understanding what is public health, and probably will not pursue public health in the future. Don’t earn a degree to just get a paper that doesn’t mean anything.

Public health has many interpretations, but generally defined as promoting the general well-being of all populations, communities, and families both physically and mentally through research, education, promotion, and prevention.

Public health goals:

  • Prevention of diseases
  • Promotion of health behaviors
  • Prolong life and protect the population

Public health core functions:

  • Assess – identify the hazards, collect data, and investigate
  • Policy development – advocate for support, prioritize health needs, develop policies
  • Assurance – manage resources, implement policies/programs, and evaluation of polices/programs

Public health focuses on prevention and the population, whereas many health/medical discipline focuses on treatment of the individual. Other topics that public health also tackle are social issues, health inequities, and health disparities.

In Saving Gotham by Dr. Tom Farley, ex-Mayor Bloomberg and health commissioner, Dr. Tom Frieden teamed up to save 8 million lives in New York. How? They were first in the U.S. to implement these programs: Smoke Free Air Act, programs for smokers, distribution of nicotine patches, calorie count on menu boards, soda tax, and green carts. They also looked at  health differences low income areas and racial demographics. Public health requires lots of data, marketing, and often enter the political arena due to policies, programs, and funding.

“…that the School of Public Health saves more lives than the medical school will in its entire history.” – Mike Bloomberg (Saving Gotham – go read it!)

Public health used to mainly focus on communicable diseases (i.e. ebola), but now it has shifted its focus to chronic diseases. How can public health influence people to make better and healthier choices? 40% of preventable/early deaths are due to behavior.

causes of death
New England Journal of Medicine

Some of the leading causes of death are chronic diseases that are related to behavioral choices and how certain behaviors can exacerbate current chronic illnesses.

leading causes of death
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The challenge: unhealthy behavior is hard to change, but we try anyway! Public health is everywhere from urban planning and development, clinics, green spaces, educational material, research, and everywhere to promote even the slightest change for a healthier lifestyle.

A public health education

A Bachelor’s in public health introduces many fields under public health such as epidemiology, biostatistics, global health, maternal and child health, and health systems.

A Master’s in public health has concentrations that a student will choose to focus on like MPH in epidemiology, MPH in global communicable diseases, MPH in biostatistics, MPH in occupational health, MPH in environmental health, MPH in behavioral and mental health, MPH-MHA in management health administration, MPH in sexual health, or dual concentrations.

I earned my Bachelor’s at the University of South Florida (USF), and I’m continuing my Master’s here as well. My focus is on global communicable diseases, and I’m thinking to add another concentration along with my studies. Just a side-note: USF’s MPH programs ranks as one of the top universities in the nation for public health education.

How has public health affected me? 

I live healthier! I’m more weary about my behavior and choices, and how it may affect my health. I read a lot of published journals, policy briefs, scientific texts, and health/social issue related books because of my classes. Being aware and smart is better than being ignorant. I also find myself debating on certain health issues, how others perceive the health issue, and how to solve it.

public health, parks and rec, leslie knope

Next post: Recounting my time in Portland, OR




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