It’s THAT time! Those who have been reading Unconditionally Her for a while know that I am a
long-time public health professional and health and wellness advocate, always excited to share anything that is health-related.
April is a time each year when amidst the sunshine and a budding outdoors, the spotlight is on public health during National Public Health Week (NPHW). This time last year, COVID-19 was still very much a challenge as it was the year prior, and those who were not familiar with public health and public health work soon had their awareness raised as public health workers – and those in healthcare – had more visibility with the work they were doing to keep everyone healthy and safe.
While another year has passed and COVID-19 is still here, the bright light shining on our public
health and healthcare workers may look a little different than it did during those early days of the
pandemic, as other societal issues and concerns have made way to the forefront. I hope that all will forever remember the importance of our public health and healthcare workforce and the incredibly impacting work that they do – not just during a pandemic, but every day with some of the less visible but equally important work. A blog post on the American Public Health Association’s website says what all of us in the field have said for a long time: “If we’re doing our jobs right, the water is clean, the air is breathable, the factories and the food supply are safe. But then along comes a disease outbreak, and suddenly everybody wants to talk to us!”
Health Care, Healthcare, and Public Health
To-may-toes, To-mah-tos. It’s the same thing, right? Not really. So, what is the difference
between health care, healthcare, and public health? It’s a great question and one worthy of an
informed response as many may not know the difference or think they are one and the same. An easy way to explain public health is that it deals with health at a larger, population level and is not specific to individual health. A health care provider — your physician, nurse, or other clinicians — is the person you call upon when you are sick or to otherwise help keep you healthy and well. You may be dealing with a chronic condition such as diabetes, asthma, or any one of many other conditions. You may have an acute issue of a sore throat or a sudden headache that isn’t letting up. Your healthcare provider is the one that you set up an appointment with, who listens to your symptoms, orders testing, diagnoses you, and provides the needed treatment plan so that you are healthy and well again. “Healthcare” is the broader system of care or “industry” that is made up of health care providers.
Public health is much different than what was described above. Public health looks at an entire
group – a state, a city, a neighborhood, as an example – and determines how many people have diabetes (or asthma or any other disease and condition), why they may be at risk, what resources are available to them, and how to prevent new cases of diabetes. Public health looks at social determinants of health (i.e., where we live, learn, work, play, worship, and age) and factors that impact large groups of people such as quality of care, number of providers, access to providers, and more. Public health is very broad and can include researchers, educators, epidemiologists, policy makers, public health physicians and nurses – and many others. This is an overly simplistic explanation of public health, but hopefully, it makes the point.
National Public Health Week
Every year during the first full week of April, the American Public Health Association (APHA)
brings together communities across the United States to observe National Public Health Week as a time to recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving our nation’s health. Each year, the Association develops a national campaign to educate the public, policymakers and practitioners about issues related to each year's theme. This year’s observance kicks off April 4 th and goes through April 10 th and the theme is “Public Health is Where You Are.” Public health professionals everywhere will be spotlighting the importance of “where you are” and working towards safer, healthier communities everywhere.
Most of us recognize that health is something important both at the individual level and
collectively as a society. Take an opportunity to do something positive for your own health that first week of April that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise done, and check local media for activities going on in your community in observance of National Public Health Week. And take a moment to learn more about the amazing field that is public health, and its role in keeping us all healthy and well. It is so much bigger than many people realize. The short 4-minute video below demonstrates the breadth of public health and explains some of its many important functions that help keep us all healthy and safe, but that aren’t often in the spotlight.
As we continue this journey in the year that is 2022, here’s to public health and healthy communities, “where you are!”
American Public Health Association. www.apha.org