So what exactly is Public Health?

I had a conversation with a friend a couple of days ago on the topic of Public Health and he was pretty astonished when I mentioned that the completion of a MPH – Masters in Public Health (I’m currently in the midst of  one, out of personal interest) will not make one an expert in the area.

When asked to explain the differences between Public Health and Clinical Medicine, I’d usually point out that Public Health looks at the Community while Clinical Medicine looks at the individual.

Earlier this morning, I found a much better illustration which I have decided to share here:

Public Health Medicine
Primary Focus Populations Individuals
Emphasis Prevention Diagnosis
Health Promotion Treatment
Whole Community Whole Patient
Paradigm Interventions aimed at Environment, Human Behavior and Lifestyle, and Medical Care Medical Care
Organizational Lines of Specialization Analytical (Epidemiology); Organ (Cardiology);
Setting and Population (Occupational Health); Patient Group (Pediatrics);
Substantive Health Problem (Nutrition); Etiology, Pathophysiology (Oncology, Infectious Disease)
Skills in Assessment, Policy Development, and Assurance Technical Skill (Radiology)
[Adapted from: Fineberg, Harvey, MD, PhD, Dean, Harvard University School of Public Health, 1990. Traditional Distinctions Between Public Health and Medicine. Table 5-1, Who Will Keep the Public Healthy? Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century. Institute of Medicine, 2003.]

While the table above illustrate the distinct differences between Public Health and Clinical Medicine, it does not explain why the completion of a MPH will not make one an expert on the area of Public Health.

Public Health considers interventions aimed at Environment, Human Behaviour and Lifestyle, and Medical Care (not just medical care) and being such a wide  interdisciplinary field of study and research, there are twenty identified knowledge domains within public health. They are:

  • Biostatistics
  • Chronic Diseases & Conditions
  • Community Health
  • Communicable Diseases
  • Disaster Control & Emergency Services
  • Environmental Health
  • Epidemiology
  • General Public Health
  • Global Health
  • Health Services Administration
  • Health Promotion & Education
  • Maternal & Child Health
  • Nutrition
  • Occupational Health
  • Public Health Informatics
  • Public Health Laboratory Sciences
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Social & Behavioral Sciences
  • Vital Statistics & Surveillance

It is important to understand that one can do a Master degree on any of the listed identified knowledge (and in some cases, even subdomains within the domains).

Yes, Public Health is a big topic and I personally think that its an important one, after all, Prevention is better than Cure!

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