The other day at my part-time work, a colleague asked me: “Remind me, what do you study again?”. My response was, “Oh, Public Health”. There was a brief silence followed by another question: “What’s that? Like, what do you do with the degree?”.
Now, this is not the first time I've been asked this question. I must say that throughout my three years of studying, this has been the most commonly asked question that I've ever gotten and I genuinely understand why. Prior to my application to study the course, I was pretty much in the same boat - I didn't know what it was.
I believe that courses like Public Health are 'not' your typical science courses so there tend to be less research and interest around it from prospective students. Simultaneously, most people just don't know what it entails so it tends to be overlooked.
So, what is Public Health?
Public Health is quite broad but, concisely, it can be defined as the art and science surrounding disease prevention, health promotion, prolonging life within a population through the organised efforts of the population and healthcare services/personnel.
Public Health looks at the population as a whole. In Clinical Science for example, the patient is the individual. However, the patient in Public Health is the population - this could be a community, town, city, village, country or even a continent.
To create a better understanding of Public Health as a course, I want to highlight some of the modules I have done so far and how they relate to the field.
The Population Health module: as I mentioned earlier, Public Health deals mainly with the Population. For this module, we looked at various populations, conducted a community assessment which helped to ascertain what challenges the community faced e.g. disease outbreaks, poor health infrastructure etc, evaluated current interventions and recommended new ones. As a student, this helps to develop your analytical as well as research skills.
Projects to Enhance Health: to prolong life and promote health and wellbeing within a given population, continuous projects, and programmes need to be introduced. For example, smoking cessation programmes. Of course, for such programmes or initiatives to be introduced, there needs to be some sort of evidence (usually from research) to highlight the benefits, to gain the support and funding from either the government or healthcare services and personnel. Therefore, this module gives an in-depth knowledge on how to design a research project proposal and how to properly apply for a grant.
Other modules include, the Global Health and Sustainability module which looks at population health from a global perspective (for example, the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia) and ways health initiatives can last long term and the Research and Evidence module which helps to develop research skills to mention a few.
Because of how broad Public Health is, there are various things you could do with it. Some of these include:
- Health visitors: these are usually nurses and midwives who work mainly with children and their families or deprived groups to promote good health.
- Environmental health professional
- Public Health Practitioners e.gs. smoking cessation advisor, Public Health nutritionist, Health improvement practitioner, teenage pregnancy coordinator
- Public Health manager roles
- Director of Public Health
These are only a few of the job prospects in the Public Health field. The NHS Health careers website provides a great insight and information on these and other job roles, so it might be worth having a look at.
Overall, I've enjoyed the course so far. It's been an interesting one! My advice for anyone who is looking to do this course is to make sure you do your research about the course and possible career options. This would give you ideas and will make sure this is a field you would like to go into.
Essentially, if you would like to make a difference on a larger scale, this is the field for you!
Oh, in case you might be still wondering, what my final response to my colleague was, it was pretty much everything I've highlighted above but in the most concise way possible!