The role of public health in keeping communities healthy

May 10 , 2024

The past several years have made apparent the need for adequate public health expertise. As we grapple with the effects of a global pandemic and other elements that impact the health of communities, it’s important to improve people’s understanding of the role of public health services in our lives. 

Titilola Balogun, MBBS, DrPH, Academic Program Director for the Public Health programs in the Capella University School of Nursing and Health Sciences, provides insight into this professional field. 

What public health is – and isn’t

Broadly, public health serves people and communities by promoting healthy lifestyles, preventing disease and preparing for emergency situations and unforeseen circumstances. 

When considering a career in public health, it’s important to understand the difference between medicine and public health. A medical professional takes care of patients on an individual level. Public health professionals, on the other hand, take a community or global view rather than providing direct one-on-one care. 

“With public health, the patient is the entire community,” Dr. Balogun says. 

Preparedness, response planning and pattern detection

Part of the responsibility of public health services is to develop adequate response plans. In the event of an epidemic or disease outbreak, public health professionals are charged with developing proactive strategies that can be rolled out efficiently during an emergency.

Whether or not there’s a current health crisis, public health professionals actively work to keep the community safe from infectious diseases through surveillance. 

“Surveillance is systematic, ongoing tracking of what’s happening with infectious diseases,” Dr. Balogun says. Public health professionals help collect and report information so there’s transparency about infection rates. “All of that is always going on behind the scenes.” 

This reporting of information helps track COVID-19 case numbers, outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases in a region and upticks in foodborne illnesses. It can also help identify when uncommon diseases appear in a given population, such as Ebola or other diseases that could be contracted from international travel. 

Research and areas of study

Different areas of study in the public health field include but are not limited to biostatistics, epidemiology and environmental health.

Continuous evaluation of how infectious diseases spread is a vital part of public health work. This research can lead to new discoveries in the detection and prevention of global epidemics and environmental risk factors.

Through their ongoing research, public health professionals can help develop new and better ways to advocate for policies and resources to combat these persistent public health concerns. Professionals in the field can also delve into the realm of public health law and public health ethics.

Disseminating information and combating misinformation

Since public health professionals need to reach different populations, they have a crucial role in providing technical information to individuals who do not have a public health or healthcare background, and relaying that information in terms that the public will understand and trust.

This has become even more important with the spread of misinformation online. Dr. Balogun stresses the importance of regaining trust in public health by engaging more with the community. “I think what public health officials are doing now is trying to do some more listening to regular day-to-day people and understanding what their concerns are, acknowledging their concerns and trying to see how they can share information in a way that can be understood.”

Promoting healthy lifestyles

From implementing educational programs to regulating health systems, professionals in the field of public health can help promote healthy lifestyles. Some of the community-based health and wellness initiatives are:

  • Vaccination education
  • Health screenings
  • Health education
  • Exercise programs

Public health professionals are also concerned with accessible quality care for all populations, including at-risk populations such as those with disabilities, those who may have limited means of communication, those who live in rural areas or those in poverty. 

Public health services play a vital role in keeping communities healthy and informed about potential health risks. Continued education and staying updated on new public health trends will help prepare professionals for a successful career in the industry.

Explore public health degrees and certificates from Capella to help gain new skills in the field: 

You may also like

How to uncover and address inequities in health care

A nurse at the intersection of finance and health care

Start learning today

Get started on your journey now by connecting with an enrollment counselor. See how Capella may be a good fit for you, and start the application process.