By Grace Colville
UKNow, University of Kentucky
Living in a pandemic has been an adjustment for everyone. Public health plays a bigger role in the life of the average person today than ever before. but what does that mean exactly? The field of public health is constantly growing and evolving, but one thing remains: public health exists to keep communities safe. Public health professionals exist to help others.
UKNow sat down with College of Public Health Dean Donna Arnett to discuss the different areas of public health and how each contributes to global well-being. We also gathered input from Anna Hoover, assistant professor of preventive medicine and environmental health, and April Young, associate professor of epidemiology. (All have doctorates.)
You know: In your opinion, what is public health?
Arnet: “I think the simplest description of public health that resonates with people who aren’t medical is that medicine is really about treating an individual patient. Find out what’s wrong with that patient, then find the right treatment option. In public health, we really try to look at what causes diseases in populations, so that we can prevent those diseases. If you think of anything that affects a population, public health is in all of those areas. »
Vacuum: “Public health helps communities, policy makers and practitioners develop and use tools to minimize illness and improve well-being. In short, public health strives to protect the health of people and communities around the world.
Young: “Public health inherently recognizes that the world is connected and that the health of one community inherently affects the health of others.”
Young: “Kentucky has been the epicenter of the substance abuse epidemic for decades. We work to reduce the harms associated with substance use, support entry into treatment, and meet people who use drugs where they find themselves without judgment to meet their most urgent needs. We have witnessed an unprecedented increase in overdoses during the Covid pandemic, and our team has worked to address it. We have accelerated efforts to provide a overdose and naloxone (Narcan) education to those most at risk of overdose.
Arnet: “We are very strong in the areas of cancer prevention and epidemiology, as well as substance use disorders. The issues we face in Kentucky from a health perspective are so dramatic. From east to west Kentucky, we average a 10-year difference in life expectancy. So having so many health disparities in our Commonwealth really provides that natural laboratory to do that kind of research.
Vacuum: “In Kentucky, multidisciplinary environmental health teams are working across the state to identify community concerns, understand how environmental exposures may contribute to those concerns, and help develop strategies to minimize environmental health impacts. For example, NIH-funded researchers are studying how we can detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater to help inform community testing and mitigation strategies; how to identify and reduce potential exposure to byproducts disinfection in rural water systems; and how to empower residents to detect and reduce radon in their homes.”
You know: What impact has the work in your field had on the fight against Covid-19?
Vacuum: “Since environmental health is inherently an interdisciplinary field that brings together laboratory scientists, population health researchers, civil and environmental engineers, and clinicians, our field is ideally suited to study and address the complexities of transmission of Covid-19. Additionally, environmental health scientists and practitioners have extensive experience in translating scientific findings to diverse audiences, including other researchers, policy makers, health workers, and community members.
The College of Public Health has six main departments: Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Gerontology, Health, Behavior and Society, Health Management and Policy, and Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health.
“That’s where I discovered and fell in love with research, especially research in epidemiology,” she says. “Epidemiology is the fundamental science of public health. It really teaches you how to design research studies and how to ask and answer questions in meaningful ways. It was my “lightbulb” moment.
Arnett says just about any undergraduate degree can lead to a career in public health. Now more than ever, the field of public health needs workers who are committed to making big changes in their communities. At its core, public health is about people.
“The goal is always the same – to improve the health of the communities we serve.”