Public Health: Your Health Umbrella

The protective, public health

The protective, public health “umbrella”

Think about health over the years: in the 1900s, being a senior citizen meant reaching the age of 47. Now, you are considered one above the age of 80 years old. Coronary heart disease, the number one cause of death in America, has had a 60% decrease in death rates since 1950. Polio has been eradicated, and many infectious diseases controlled. Envision the rates in another ten years, and how exceptional life would be.

This is because of public health, which is working to improve the health of people all over the world. It can happen through research for disease prevention, analyzing the effect on health of genetics, providing clean water, and many more things. It is an umbrella encompassing the health of the world.

Often, it is confused with Clinical Health professions. Rather than caring for individuals (like Clinical Health), it focuses on a population as a whole, and how to prevent diseases rather than treating diseases. Flu vaccinations are an example of public health – they prevent the flu from infecting a person’s body. Clinical Health would treat someone already diagnosed with the flu. Broad areas of Public Health jobs could be in research, lab work, epidemiology, or educating the public.

Dr. Usha Srinivasan, a Research Investigator at the University of Michigan, describes lab work and research: “Our research is so interdisciplinary. We do research studies and we go to the field and collect samples from patients in a clinical setting. There’s a lot of sample processing and handling and storage and database design and backups, and then there is the actual experimentation which is very hands on and lab work.”

In addition to explaining lab work and research, she cleared up misleading thoughts about them. “We get a lot of people who want to come and work in a lab and want to do fancy experiments, but what we look for in people who are coming in is just a desire and focus to learn basic lab skills…be prepared spending a lot of time getting some basic methods done, and there’s a lot of interesting questions you can ask and that would be the next step.”

With the same goal of Dr. Srinivasan’s work in mind, Dr. Ana Baylin, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology at UM School of Public Health, elaborated on her position and why she enjoys it: “What I wanted to be was a student because I like learning, and that’s why I became a professor. I thought this is the closest thing to be learning continuously. Students are always challenging you– I like the novelty of things being new all the time.”

The difference between working in a lab and being a professor is so immense that there is something for anyone. “One of the nice things about the field is that it is so diverse that you can do anything. Many people come from the biological sciences because, of course, for anything related to health you have to know something about biology. At the same time many people come from the quantitative methods like the statisticians or even the engineers,” Dr. Baylin elucidated.

With so many people working under this large umbrella, there is a tremendous potential for this field. Public health has a goal in mind, new jobs have emerged and the potential is soaring. It is the ever-growing umbrella that will hopefully, yield the most healthy lives.