As the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) states, public health officials are “helping to solve the world’s most pressing health problems.”
Presently, U.S. public health officials are on alert as it relates to the rise of measles and influenza, and stopping the presence of Ebola. Infectious disease is one example of the pressing health problems these professionals seek to mitigate.
Public health officials play a vital role in keeping people informed when it comes to infectious diseases and other potential health risks to a given population. The field is diverse and positions can vary. It is important to keep the following key areas in mind when considering a career as a public health professional.
Preparedness, Response Planning, and Disaster Recovery
The role of public health officials relies heavily on their ability to develop adequate response plans. In the event of an epidemic or disease outbreak, these professionals are charged with developing proactive strategies that can be rolled out efficiently during an emergency.
As was the case with Ebola, public health officials quickly responded with tools and resources the public could use to assess the risk and make informed decisions. For example, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) released information about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Top 10 Ebola Response Planning Tips as a way to combat potential misjudgments or fears that the public might have about the topic.
Public health officials also play an active role in natural disaster situations as they work to combat the rapid spread of disease by contaminated water or air. In preparing for natural disasters, public health officials work to make sure there are shelter plans, plans for medical attention if needed, and food preparedness plans. And in the event that natural disaster strikes, these officials are also charged with aiding in disaster recovery. For example, in May 2011, Joplin, Mo. was hit by a devastating EF5 tornado. During the recovery, public health officials were instrumental in the response from such agencies as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross who set up temporary housing and medical facilities.
Research and Pattern Detection
Continuous study of how infectious diseases spread is a vital part of public health officials’ responsibility. This research can lead to new discoveries in the detection and prevention of global epidemics such as AIDS and influenza, and environmental risk factors such as vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, or factory emissions. Through their ongoing research, public health officials are able to develop new and better ways to advocate for policies and resources to combat these persistent public health concerns.
Dissemination of Information
The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health published an article on the role of public health officials in communicating to the public. Since they need to reach various populations in a variety of ways, public health officials have a crucial role in providing technical information to non-science audiences—speaking in terms that the public will understand and trust.
In order to accomplish this, public health officials must employ various communication strategies that resonate with diverse populations, yet relay similar messages. They often partner with organizations that already communicate with the target population to help get the word out on public safety concerns and emergencies. Or they organize face-to-face meetings for populations who do not have access to digital communication or who are not likely to read mass media in print.
Promoting Healthy Lifestyles
From implementing educational programs to regulating health systems, public health officials are regarded as go-to sources for healthy lifestyle promotion. Some of the community-based health and wellness initiatives supported by public health officials are:
- Vaccination education
- Health screenings
- Health education
- Exercise programs
Public health officials are also concerned with accessible health 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 urban areas, or those who have limited socio-economic status. According to the ASPPH, these at-risk populations can have a higher capacity to contract infectious diseases.
Public health officials play a vital role in educating the public about the implications of infectious diseases. If you have a passion for protecting the welfare of communities, Capella University’s online Master of Public Health can help you advance your career in public health and fuel your passion for protecting the welfare of communities.