We Are Public Health

written by Lisa Vasquez, Communications Committee Co-Chair

When I tell people I work in a local health department, they have so many questions and preconceived notions of what I actually do. Many think I am a nurse, for who else works in public health? Others have questions about what does someone in public health actually do. Others wonder why public health is needed if people can just visit their primary care provider. Here are some things you should know about public health. Public health is comprised of many professions, and all are needed and valuable. In New Hampshire, we have the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and their Division of Public Health Services, which acts as the state’s public health department. We also have two local public health departments, one in Manchester and one in Nashua. In areas where there is no local public health department, a system has been devised to be able to offer public health services throughout the state. This is done through public health networks. There are 13 public health networks throughout New Hampshire; visit https://nhphn.org for more information. These networks are tasked with providing public health functions within a geographical area. But what are public health functions and services? Public health is tasked with 10 essential core functions:

  1. Monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems.
  2. Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community.
  3. Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues.
  4. Mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems.
  5. Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts.
  6. Enforce laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety.
  7. Link people to needed personal health services and ensure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable.
  8. Ensure competent public and personal health care workforce.
  9. Evaluate effectiveness, accessibility, and quality of personal and population-based health services.
  10. Research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems.

Public health would not be able to conduct these core functions without being able to draw from a wide range of professionals. These can include public health nurses and doctors, epidemiologists, health educators, food service inspectors, social workers, community planners, safety professionals, and public policy makers, among others.

Recently when speaking with a medical student during their community health rotation at the local health department, I asked what they thought public health encompassed prior to the rotation and what they learned after their third week into the rotation. The student replied that prior to being at the health department and seeing the work, they believed public health was strictly data collection, data sharing for health tracking purposes, and resource dissemination. But after being exposed to the work, they learned that the work of a public health organizations covers so much more. The work includes the providing of services, advocacy and education to legislators, providing a voice for those don’t have a voice, and reaching people where they are, sort of like a liaison to basic needs. They learned that relationship building with every sector of the community is essential to any work being done in the community. The student was amazed that so many services and connections to programs were available under one roof.

Public health plays a core part of your life and your health. If you learned to wash your hands after using the restroom or before preparing foods, you’re welcome—that’s public health at work. If you wear your seatbelt and brush your teeth, you’re welcome—that’s public health at work. Public health is promoting health, protecting health, and preventing disease.

For more information about the NH regional public health networks, visit https://nhphn.org/.

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