What is public health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines public health as “the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging health through the organized efforts of society.” 

Public health differs from clinical medicine in that while the latter focuses on immediate individual health issues, the former is holistic in nature, with a “bigger picture” focus. Consider the example of a patient who breaks his leg in a car accident. While a clinician’s primary efforts will involve treating the broken leg, the public health approach will attempt to determine how and why the accident happened in the first place. In this case, contributing factors could include everything from vision problems and poor knowledge about driving to inadequately maintained roads and unsafe cars due to lack of jobs and money. 

This example highlights the complex nature of health and the many different determinants that come together to influence it, including individual characteristics; lifestyle and behaviors; and physical, social, and economic environments. “In order to make a difference in health, there’s action needed across all the different determinants. Public health focuses on these upstream factors to make changes that can benefit the health of the population as a whole,” explains the organization Let’s Learn Public Health

Public health and current affairs

There may be no better example of public health in action than the coronavirus crisis. In his recent statement at the opening of the European Public Health Week, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge said, “As COVID-19 has swept through our countries and communities, never before has the importance of public health been so prominent in the collective consciousness, and never before has the demand for our expertise been so insistent.” 

While many public health workers, such as laboratorians, behavioral health professionals, environmental health experts, and biostaticians, are on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus, others work behind the scenes. Regardless, their work has a profound impact on understanding the disease and its spread. For example, public health measures such as school closures and social distancing have been linked with differences in the extent to which the virus has spread. 

Public health experts continue to look at what other factors will come into play, such as seasonality. As the seasons change -- both literally and figuratively -- the pivotal role public health will continue to play cannot be overstated. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal insists, “Only public health interventions were consistently associated with reduced epidemic growth, and the greater the number of co-occurring public health interventions, the larger the reduction in growth.” 

Public health

In addition to more obvious issues like the sick and the dying, public health also looks at other contributing areas to human health during COVID-19. Take supply chain management, for example. People all over the planet depend on the global supply chain to maintain access to basic products and materials. According to WHO, “The coronavirus crisis has revealed the fragility of the modern supply chain,” while public health care and health care think tank JSI reinforces that, “strong supply chains save lives.” 

Public health tactics can help identify supply chain management problems and solutions, such as scaling supply chains, building healthy and adaptable markets which adapt to evolving needs, and enhancing supply chain sustainability. And this is just one way public health serves its overarching goal of supporting overall public health.

Why and where to study public health?

Given the monumental importance of public health, it follows that there are many jobs available in public health, in both the public and private sectors. A public health degree can help aspiring workers position themselves for fulfilling careers with real potential for making an impact. 

A master’s degree in public health (typically an MSc for this field) offers participants a thorough understanding of public health at the graduate level. In addition to offering a solid understanding of the core disciplines of public health across both practice and policy, graduate level work also offers the opportunity to specialize. The advanced degree also opens the door to higher-level jobs and better pay. Some public health jobs for which a master’s degree is often necessary include epidemiology, advanced health education, and research. 

Unicaf’s MSc Public Health program offers an ideal pathway to acquiring the skills and expertise you’ll need to become a public health leader in your community or country. The program explores best practices across a number of key aspects, including day-to-day administrative and managerial decisions within a public health context; preventative medical campaigns and other health problem prevention initiatives; management of financial and material resources; reduction of health inequalities; examining global health both to tackle current issues and to generate forecasts; and influencing public health policy. 

Program graduates have many opportunities to become part of the healthcare solutions in a breadth and depth of capacities, including public health project management, healthcare administration, healthcare social work, hospital administration, and management policy advising.

Unicaf is the leading online and campus learning platform for underserved markets. Several things make Unicaf’s MSc Public Health program uniquely appealing and accessible, including that its flexible online delivery model with all materials and assignments available on the schools’ state-of-the-art Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and the conferral of a prestigious degree from the UK’s University of Suffolk. You may even qualify for the Unicaf Scholarship Program, which offers reduced tuition fees which can be paid in manageable monthly installments. 

The testimonials of Unicaf graduates speak for themselves. Tiffany Campbell of Jamaica says, “The structure of Unicaf’s online study has allowed me to obtain a higher level education without being in a classroom. The convenience of studying online creates a balance between working full time and raising a toddler. Additionally, the payment plan is great and with Unicaf’s help, I was able to work hard and achieve my dream of having a Master’s degree because it would not have been possible with my current busy schedule. [...] Overall, the experience thus far has been very rewarding and I truly recommend studying with Unicaf, especially to those busy persons who may want to further their studies.” 

Leena Daniel of Namibia adds, “I have learned a lot within a very short time frame and encouraging fellow youth and anyone who can dedicate his/her time on studies to do so now.”

Indeed, when it comes to public health studies, now is an especially opportune moment to position yourself not only to get a degree, but to make a difference. Dr. Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, a physician with a master of public health degree, recently told U.S. News & World Report, “With the repercussions of COVID, we're going to need more public health specialists in developed and developing societies. We're trying to restructure our society [and] restructure our health care system.”  

Furthermore, many experts are quick to point out that the coronavirus is not an anomaly, but a harbinger of things to come. Steward M. Patrick, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ International Institutions and Global Governance Program, asserts that the ongoing pandemic is “the shape of things to come as development and globalization are driving a new era of infectious disease.” 

So with so much on the line and the future uncertain, there’s no time like the present to pursue studies toward a future career in public health.

Article written in association with Unicaf.