What is Public Health?

(Graduate School of Public Health)

I’ve mentioned a few times now that I work in – and study – public health, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about what that means! Public health isn’t something that I knew about as an undergraduate. I didn’t actually learn what it was until I starting working in research – my boss had a joint position in the public health school at the university, so I got a very hands-on introduction to the field.

What I love most about public health, and what makes it difficult to explain, is how broad the field is! The most simple explanation of public health is that it helps protect and promote the health of everyone. Often, public health practitioners are collaborators, working with physicians, policy makers, nonprofits, even engineers and scientists. You can focus on global public health and work abroad, or work for a local health department. I currently work in public health research, but even that is a broad term – I work on projects across different fields of public health, like cost-effectiveness analysis, some simulation modeling, and end-of-life research.

When I was studying as an undergraduate, I was drawn to biomedical engineering because I wanted to help people be healthy, but I knew I didn’t want to be a physician. I realized engineering wasn’t where I wanted to end up, either, but I think public health really captures the essence of what I wanted to do. It’s in the healthcare field, but it’s large scale. I’m not diagnosing one person, but I’m working to better the health of the population as a whole.

I think health is something that’s easy to take for granted. Living with a chronic illness has made me particularly aware of how important health is – and how drastically it can affect your life if even something small changes in your health. I’m really glad I have the opportunity to work in a field that values, and advocates for, the importance of health!

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