What is Public Health?

Public health is a field of education, advocacy and direct service that promotes and protects the health of communities. While doctors and nurses treat those who are sick or injured, public health professionals help to prevent health issues through advocacy and education.The public health field involves research, education, counseling and more. Ideally, public health professionals work together to create the healthiest environments in which people can thrive. From researching disease outbreaks to vaccinating children to educating people about the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco use, public health professionals help to spread knowledge about healthy lifestyles and access to resources.

According to the American Public Health Association, the mission of a public health professional is to save money, improve quality of life, help children thrive and reduce human suffering.

How Does Public Health Differ From Other Healthcare Professions?

Though there are medical and healthcare aspects of the public health profession, the main difference between public health and other healthcare professions is that public health focuses on prevention more than response. Nurses and doctors, for example, respond to medical and health issues as they happen. A community health worker, which is one of the many kinds of careers in public health, aims to educate people about available healthcare services, conducts outreach programs and helps to facilitate access to care.

Public Health Careers

There are many different career opportunities in the field of public health. These careers include: public health services, environmental services, epidemiology and social and public health policy.

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who conduct research concerning how diseases and injuries occur in humans. Epidemiologists collect and analyze data concerning health issues in specific communities and demographics in order to prevent further disease and injury and to educate people on how to prevent these outcomes. Epidemiologists make around $69,450 a year; those who work in research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences can make an average of $91,900 a year.

Health educators work in specific communities in order to develop programs and outreach that teach people about different health topics. They provide training programs for community health workers and others in order to better facilitate healthier environments and better communication between healthcare professionals and the communities they serve. Health educators may work on policies and advocate for improved health resources and regulations. The average salary for a health educator is $51,960.

Community health workers perform the most direct service with communities and individuals. They educate people about and help to facilitate access to healthcare services. They are on the frontline in public health. Community health workers must have strong communication skills and the ability to empathize and relate to many different kinds of people in order to provide services like blood tests, cancer screenings and informational programming. The average salary of a community health worker is $36,300.

Education Required

A B.S. Public Health or Master of Public Health offers coursework that spans this entire field. Subjects like food safety and hygiene, emergency preparedness, communicable and non-communicable diseases, health policy and politics, epidemiology and more are all covered and prepare graduates for careers in public health.

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