Lisa Wehr's Public Health Blog

Lisa is originally from Sigourney, Iowa. She attended Iowa State University and received her bachelor’s degree in Music in 2010. She is currently a first year Master’s of Public Health (MPH) student in community and behavioral health (CBH). Lisa works on the medicine-psychiatry unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). Through this blog Lisa hopes to let people learn about the CBH department.

This student blog is unedited and does not necessarily reflect the views of the College of Public Health or the University of Iowa.

16 February 2011

That's great! So what do

Anyone currently in public health knows where this comes from.
It starts with an innocuous "So what are you doing these days?"
And the answer, "I'm in grad school in public health." (note: Avoid simply saying "I'm getting my MPH" It generally causes more trouble than it's worth)

Then comes the awkward moment where they start to sound happy for you but then they just wonder what on earth public health is.

And the next awkward moment where you know that they don't want a long answer, but it's nearly impossible to explain in just a single sentence. (Unless, of course, you use a run-on sentence).

Because, really, does anyone actually know what public health is? Maybe on some level people in the field have a sense of how broad it is, but I think it would take a lifetime to know everything it possibly encompasses. (Seriously, at least once a week I ask myself "What is public health?" I still don't have a good, succinct answer.)

To begin with, there are the 5 main areas: community and behavioral health, epidemiology, environmental health, health policy, and biostatistics Though many schools use various titles, they all have the same basic ones. But even that doesn't tell most of the story. So much in public health is collaboration between the departments and collaboration with other professions.

Sometimes I consider giving a quick example of public health that people might easily relate to, but there are so many! It's completely overwhelming.

A sampling:
community clinics, food safety, community planning, policies for insurance companies, vaccination programs, sanitation, health education, disease prevention, infectious disease, farm safety, workplace injuries, promoting seat belts and responsible drinking and exercise condoms nutrition birth control sunscreen sleep habits medication adherence, studying trends in diseases injuries food poisoning risks and social trends, emergency response, professional licensing, air quality, food quality, water quality, household safety (radon, lead, etc), number crunching (determining the deaths from gunshots or diabetes), prenatal care, childhood care, environmental testing. And not just in the US, but all of this happens globally, too!

I could sound pretentious and cite a dictionary definition: "Public health is the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals"

I could be a jerk and tell them to look it up themselves (this is what I did to my little brother growing up when he asked the meaning of a word).

I usually give in to brevity and simply say "I'm in community and behavioral health, and I focus a lot of disease prevention, and health education, and interventions that impact communities."

Is it the actual definition of public health? No. Is it all those people really care about? Usually.

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