So, what is public health?
After working in public health for over 5 years in various front line positions, and now management, I can truly use the phrase – If I had a dollar, or even a dime, for every time one of my friends or family members asked me “what is public health” I’d be rich! I’ll do my best to answer by asking (and answering) three key questions.
1. Immunizations… Smoking cessation… Prenatal classes… Breastfeeding support… Free dental care… Safe food handling… Seniors fall prevention… what do all of these have in common?
Yes, hopefully you made the connection, they are all services offered by public health units, but they are also all examples of health promotion and disease prevention. This is one of the main differences between a public health practitioner, and a primary care practitioner, such as a clinical nurse or doctor. While clinical nurses/doctors focus on treating conditions, in public health we are interested in working with communities and populations to promote health and prevent disease and injury. For example, rather than prescribing medication for high blood pressure, we look at the evidence, identify the causes, and use this information to influence changes in our community! There are many other things that go unnoticed that public health professionals work on behind the scenes.
2. With the information overload that we experience on a daily basis, how do we know that we can trust the information offered by public health professionals?
With google and Wikipedia at our fingertips we are able to find an answer to any question pretty easily in today’s society, but this also causes complications when interpreting the information. The Ontario Public Health Standards dictate the expectations for how public health units operate in Ontario. These standards are evidence-based and therefore ensure that the information, programs and services offered by public health professionals are based on the most up-to-date research, data and evidence.
3. How do people access public health services in their community?
In Ontario there are 36 public health units, each covering a distinct geographical region. By visiting the Ministry of Health and Long-term care’s “Public Health Unit Locator,” individuals can identify their health unit easily by typing in their postal code. Every health unit will have a website that explains the programs, services and information available to improve the overall health and well-being of their local community.
Now that you have a basic understanding of public health, I encourage you all to be your own health advocate. Take a few minutes to visit your local public health unit’s website and do your research. There will be something relevant to you, your family and/or your friends. Spread the word and contribute to improving your health and the health of those in your community, we can all play a role.