Ahhhhh, public health. A political minefield at the best of times (and at its worst a completely different subject if you accidentally forget that l :-o ). I often wonder how such an important specialty, one whose achievements have led to such a dramatic improvements in our quality of life over the last century and a bit, can be so underrepresented and ignored :-((
The improvements in housing and sanitation, as well as the introduction of vaccination have changed our lives so drastically and increased our life expectancy (life span) far beyond what was normal in Victorian times. Honestly I believe it is time public health got some of the respect it deserves. This century continues to pose new challenges of which the effects of obesity, excessive alcohol use and smoking are really concerning, with the potential for younger generations to live shorter, unhealthier lives.
Anyways here is a definition taken from Wikipedia which states that
Public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals."
A mouthful..... so in simple terms, it involves
instead of curative aspects of disease (for example we encourage people to stop smoking to reduce their chances of getting lung cancer and other nasties, compared with just treating the cancer).
instead of individuals. Public health practitioners rarely deal with individuals unlike GPs and clinical doctors who see patients daily (an example includes providing support when setting up screening programmes).
Health protection (protecting the health and well being of the population from biological, chemical and environmental hazards) is also included and a current example is the ongoing outbreak of Legionnaire's disease in Wales. Also public health practitioners played a key role in the health response to last year's swine flu pandemic (pandemic just means a world wide epidemic/outbreak). Although it has been referred to as the pandemic that wasn't, we should remember that at least 18 500 people lost their lives since it began last April and that it mainly affected young adults, children and pregnant women (unlike the usual seasonal flu which affects older people). After all hindsight is always 20:20 (vision).
Here are a couple of cartoons after all that heavy stuff
More information on public health can be found on this website and at the Faculty of Public Health website.
Look out for Part 2 on a week in the life of a public health doctor coming soon :-)