What is Public Health? Impact of Public Health Careers in Public Health Public Health Resources Frequently Asked Questions

What is Public Health?

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Public Health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention. Public health professionals analyze the effect on health of genetics, personal choice and the environment in order to develop programs that protect the health of your family and community.

Overall, public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country.

Public health professionals try to prevent problems from happening or re-occurring through implementing educational programs, developing policies, administering services, regulating health systems and some health professions, and conducting research, in contrast to clinical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, who focus primarily on treating individuals after they become sick or injured. It is also a field that is concerned with limiting health disparities and a large part of public health is the fight for health care equity, quality, and accessibility.

The field of public health is highly varied and encompasses many academic disciplines. However, public health is mainly composed of the following core areas:

Day in the Life

From the time you wake up until the time you get home, public health impacts every area of your life.
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Public Health Quiz

Test your knowledge to see if you know what public health is all about! The questions change each time you take a quiz.
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Books/Media

A list highlighting movies, games, books and documentaries with a connection and interest in the Public Health.
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Photo Gallery

The Photo-of-the-Month gallery highlights a variety of public health experiences.
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Behavioral Science / Health Education

Stopping the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and HIV/AIDS; helping youth recognize the dangers of binge drinking; and promoting seatbelt use. Behavioral Science/Health Education focuses on ways that encourage people to make healthy choices. This includes the development of community-wide education programs that range from promoting healthy lifestyles in order to prevent disease and injury, to researching complex health issues.

Specialists encourage people to make healthy choices and develop educational programs that promote healthy lifestyles and prevent disease and injury. They also promote more efficient uses of health services, adopt self-care practices, and participate actively in the design and implementation of health programs. Some examples of concentrations include mental health, aging, health promotion and disease prevention, public health practice, health education and behavior change, disability and health, and social research.

Biostatistics

Estimating the number of deaths from gun violence or looking at trends in drunk driving injuries by using math and science is the study of biostatistics. Using biostatistics, one can identify health trends that lead to life-saving measures through the application of statistical procedures, techniques, and methodology. Forecasting scenarios, identifying health trends within the community, explaining biological phenomena, as well as determining the causes of disease and injury, biostatistics are an integral part of public health. Biostatistics are often utilized in tandem with epidemiology.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

Ensuring that communities have trained emergency medical responders always available to respond to emergencies.  Emergency Medical Services focuses on ensuring a functioning emergency care system.  This includes licensing paramedics and emergency medical technicians, approving the training curriculum and licensing EMS instructors, ensuring ambulances are safe and well-equipped, and ensuring that every community has access to emergency care-from first responders through to a sophisticated trauma center. 

State or regional public health specialists may focus on training, licensing, quality control, access, research, or disaster preparedness.  While the actual emergency care may be provided by a hospital, a fire department, a private company, or a non-profit organization, EMS Public Health professionals ensure a coordinated EMS system that works seamlessly to provide rapid, competent, emergency care to all citizens.

Public Health at Work Today page

Emergency Medical Services: Making Children Safer

Florida's EMS for Children Program within the Bureau of EMS at the State Department of Health is directly improving emergency care for children in a variety of ways, including providing supplemental pediatric care training to paramedics and emergency medical technicians, purchasing specific pediatric medical supplies for EMS organizations, providing over 18,000 special pediatric emergency care toolkits for special needs shelters, and performing research on pediatric emergency care throughout the state.  This example, part of a nationwide program to improve pediatric emergency care is a great example of how EMS Public Health professionals have a direct impact on their communities

Source: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/demo/ems/EMSC/EMSChome.html

Information for Prospective Students page/Getting Public Health Experience

  • Volunteer for your local emergency medical service organization, get trained, and get hands-on experience saving lives while you learn about the emergency care system firsthand.

Web Resources Page/General Public Health Websites

Environmental Health

The air we breathe; the water we drink; the complex interactions between human genetics and our surroundings. How do the built and natural environments influence our health and how can we reduce risk factors? These environmental risk factors can cause diseases such as asthma, cancer, and food poisoning. Specialists from chemistry, toxicology, engineering, and other disciplines combine their expertise to answer these important questions. Environmental health studies the impact of our surroundings on our health.

Because environmental health is so broad in scope, it is often broken down in academic and professional settings in areas of contact and medians. These areas are: 

  • air quality
  • food protection
  • radiation protection
  • solid waste management
  • hazardous waste management
  • water quality
  • noise control
  • environmental control of recreational areas
  • housing quality
  • vector control 

Epidemiology

When food poisoning or an influenza outbreak attacks a community, the "disease detectives" or epidemiologists are asked to investigate the cause of disease and control its spread. Epidemiologists do fieldwork to determine what causes disease or injury, what the risks are, who is at risk, and how to prevent further incidences. They spot and understand the demographic and social trends that influence disease and injury and evaluate new treatments. The initial discovery and containment of an outbreak, such as West Nile virus, often comes from epidemiologists. Some of the most important health-related discoveries in history are associated with epidemiology including the landmark 1964 Surgeon General's report on smoking tobacco stating its harmful effects. Biostatistics are often used in tandem with epidemiology.

Health Services Administration/Management

Managing the database at a school clinic; developing budgets for a health department; creating polices for health insurance companies; and directing hospital services all depend on health administrators. The field of health services administration combines politics, business, and science in managing the human and fiscal resources needed to deliver effective public health services. Specialization can be in planning, organization, policy formulation and analysis, finance, economics, or marketing.

International / Global Health

Addressing health concerns from a global perspective and encompassing all areas of public health (e.g., biostatistics, epidemiology, nutrition, maternal and child health, etc.). International health professionals address health concerns among different cultures in countries worldwide.

Globalization has linked our health more closely to one another than ever before. The rapid movement of people and food across borders means that a disease can travel from a remote village to an urban hub at breakneck speed. Global public health meets the rising health challenges that transcend national boundaries. This international field encompasses virtually all specializations in public health.

Every school offers slightly different tracks or areas of interest. Here are examples from various schools:

  • Health-Care Finance and Economics
  • Population Policy and Demography
  • Maternal and Child Health/Primary Health Care/Health Services
  • Communication and Behavioral Science
  • Coping with Complex Emergencies
  • Mental Health and Medical Anthropology
  • Program Evaluation/Information Systems
  • Public Nutrition and Food Security
  • International Health Policy and Management
  • Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control
  • Research and Evaluation Methods
  • Health Promotion

Maternal and Child Health

Providing information and access to birth control; promoting the health of a pregnant woman and an unborn child; and dispensing vaccinations to children are part of maternal and child health. Professionals in maternal and child health improve the public health delivery systems specifically for women, children, and their families through advocacy, education, and research.

Nutrition

Promoting healthy eating and regular exercise; researching the effect of diet on the elderly; teaching the dangers of overeating and overdieting are the responsibility of public health nutritionists. In short supply in both public and private sectors, this field examines how food and nutrients affect the wellness and lifestyle of population. Nutrition encompasses the combination of education and science to promote health and disease prevention.

Public Health Laboratory Practice

Public health laboratory professionals such as bacteriologists, microbiologists, and biochemists test biological and environmental samples in order to diagnose, prevent, treat, and control infectious diseases in communities. In order to ensure the safety of our food and water, to screen for the presence of certain diseases within communities, and to respond to public health emergencies, such as bioterrorism, public health laboratory practice is essential.

Public Health Policy

Analyzing the impact of seat belt laws on traffic deaths; monitoring legislative activity on a bill that limits malpractice settlements; advocating for funding for a teen anti-smoking campaign. Professionals in public health policy work to improve the public's health through legislative action at the local, state, and federal levels.

Public Health Practice

Public health is an interdisciplinary field and professionals in many disciplines such as nursing, medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy routinely deal with public health issues. A degree in public health practice enables clinicians to apply public health principles to improve their practice.