“Health care matters to all of us some of the time, public health matters to all of us all of the time” -C. Everett Koop
In combining my desire to change the world with my love for medicine, I have become greatly intrigued with the field of public health. Initially, I saw medicine the way many people do: in terms of doctors and nurses. As I have immersed myself more into the medical field, I have become exposed to an entire universe of different fields, jobs, technologies, and people. Despite the fact that the medical field touches every single person in some form or another purely based upon each individual body’s intricacies, many may not have heard of or understand what public health is.
One definition I found of public health is: “the science and art of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention…it helps improve the health and well being of people in local communities and across our nation…[and] it helps people who are less fortunate to achieve a healthier lifestyle”.
The key to public health is in education and prevention. In traditional Western medicine, people usually go see a doctor after they develop disease, illness, etc. Public health tries to prevent these diseases and illnesses from occuring by educating the patient before the contract something. In the last century, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) lists the following as the top ten public health achievements in America:
2. Motor Vehicle Safety
3. Workplace Safety
4. Control of Infectious Diseases
5. Decline in Deaths from Heart Disease and Stroke
6. Safer and Healthier Foods
7. Healthier Mothers and Babies
8. Family Planning
9. Fluoridation of Drinking Water
10. Tobacco as a Health Hazard
So just think…without public health, we would still have rubella, measles, mumps, polio, no birth control (and subsequently a LOT of kids), rotten meat sold on markets, and much more. Clearly, the incorporation of public health in our country has done much good.
But, there is still much to be done. Despite the dramatically increased life expectancy and quality of life that many Americans share, there are new epidemics that need immediate attention. As our waistlines continue to grow, so does the rate of Diabetes Type II (in both adults and now children). This is projected to have devastating health effects and health care costs. Also, as our population ages we see increasing rates of cancer, heart disease, etc, all which may be alleviated in subsequent generations through education. There is also concern for epidemics we have not yet seen: SARS, MDR (multi-drug resistant) strains of bacteria, and more. It is imperative that we continue in the field of public health to adequately prepare for these maladies.
Moving outside of our own country, we learn there are people all over the world who do not share in our American abundance of life. With the increase in technology and globalization, we have come to learn just how much people in impoverished nations need our help. Approximately 1/3 people in Africa are infected with HIV. 1/3 of the world’s population is living on under $2 a day. What we here in America can solve with a simple prescription is ravaging other nations as deadly killers. It is subsequently of great importance that we do everything we can to try and alleviate these simple problems.
The beauty of public health is that there are many avenues in which you can get involved. Public health incorporates medicine, economics, education, sociology, anthropology, math, and more. You can be a doctor, a statistician, a teacher, or a preacher, and you can still do your part to help with public health.
Currently, I am a college student. I know that with my background I do not yet have the resources to make as dramatic of an impact on public health as I would like to (through medicine). But, I am going to try and do my part through education. I will start writing blogs about various conditions, illnesses, medicines, and epidemics to try and inform people on simple ways that they can improve their own health.
If you would like to learn about internation public health, I highly recommend reading the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Dr. Paul Farmer. He completely changed the health condition of Haiti, and has in turn become one of my heroes. For those more interested in the economics side of poverty (which goes hand in hand with health), I recommend The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs.
To learn more about public health and the fields of public health, you can visit the following sites:
What is Public Health? (my personal favorite)