Working in public health is a fantastically rewarding career. By looking at the health of the whole population, you can understand, analyse and influence all the factors that affect people's health and wellbeing. These include social, environmental, cultural, economic, political and structural factors.
While clinical medicine and nursing are vital for helping and supporting people when they fall ill, work in public health provides opportunities to contribute to reducing the causes of ill health and improving people's health and wellbeing. These opportunities include: developing systems to protect people's health from environmental or human emergencies; helping people to improve their own health; and ensuring that our health services are the best and the most appropriate.
Health: Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (WHO 1948).
Wellbeing: A wider concept which embraces fulfilling our desires, reaching our potential and subjective wellbeing that combines the pleasures in life with our interpretation of how we think and feel about our life (Natural England 2008).
Public Health: The science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organised efforts of society (Acheson 1988).
Population Health: the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group (Kindig and Stoddard 2003).
Epidemiology: the science concerned with the study of the factors determining and influencing the frequency and distribution of disease, injury, and other health-related events and their causes in a defined human population (Dorland’s Medical Dictionary 2007).
Public health is at the forefront of tackling those factors that influence health and lead to health inequalities, such as differences in life span or infant deaths. Public health practice depends on good evidence. Evidence-based practice builds on epidemiological analysis to help us understand what makes an effective policy, programme or clinical intervention, in terms of their impact on people’s health and wellbeing.
The public health function in the UK ensures that public funding through the NHS is prioritised and targeted. It also helps individuals make the best use of the opportunities to protect and improve their own health. Because the factors that influence health lie mostly outside what the NHS can do, other government policies, such as those relating to food and agriculture, community safety and local government also have an impact on population health. Consequently, many public health professionals work outside the NHS and Department of Health.
There is no better time to join in the effort to promote and protect population health. From growing rates of obesity to bio-terrorism and the advent of new diseases public health issues appear regularly on the front pages of our newspapers. If you can make change happen and believe passionately in improving and protecting people's health and wellbeing and the conditions that influence their health, then public health is the career for you.
- Public Health - Everybody's business handout
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