Public Health Professionals, “Don’t You Forget about Me”

By: Jazmine R. Quintana, MPH Candidate

Interprofessional healthcare: a model that includes members of various sectors of health care to develop a more diverse team of individuals. The result? Improved health outcomes for patients.

We know that this includes MDs, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacisists, physical therapists, etc. However, why is it that the profession that is largely left out of the equation is public health professionals? In multiple venues, I have heard others emphasize the need for patient-centric care. As soon as they mention focusing on the needs of the individual, I eagerly await for their plans and visions. The leader begins to list off different professions and, yet again, I am disappointed, but not shocked, that public health professionals are not included. Why is this the case? Public health professionals have graduate degrees in the field. They, too, have a national certification exam. Where do we mention those that are out in the field developing interventions for patients? When do we accredit any changes being done to public health professionals actively conducting needs assessments and becoming culturally-competent and engaging in cultural humility to better assist our populations? Where do we begin to understand the social determinants of health—that many factors contribute to our overall health—and see that we need to address it within interventions?

Medical providers expect patients to listen to them, the authoritative figure. Many times, they provide the patient with some health education and resources to treat their given diagnosis. The patient might leave and understand how to treat their diagnosis, but that is not always the case. The provider might not ask this, but what if the patient cannot go and pick up their antibiotics? What if the patient is aware that they must engage in physical activity to lose weight to better manage their diabetes, but they do not live in a neighborhood with sidewalks, local parks, or a local gym? What if the patient is not fluent in English and cannot understand the instructions on the pill bottle? What if they have a lower health literacy, but you are expressing that their atherosclerosis is severe and they might need an atherectomy to remove the plaque and they have to take 50 mg of a statin and blood thinner? Who do you call at this time? Not the Ghostbusters.

You might have forgotten, but patients are people and they live for 364 days outside of the medical clinic—if they are even able to get to a clinic in a year, such as is the case for many migrant farm workers in the States. As a health professional, the most important part of the job is impacting patients’ lives outside of the exam room. Many medical professionals do not attribute built environment and social environment to influencing the day to day life of patients; however, do you know which professionals are aware of this? Public health professionals. Public health professionals focus even on health communication efforts to decrease disease incidence and improve overall quality of life, such as successful smoking cessation campaigns to national vaccine efforts.

As a health professional, the most important part of the job is impacting patients’ lives outside of the exam room.

Though, that is not to say that all providers are unaware and ignorant of these facts. An increasing amount of medical school programs and physician assistant programs throughout the United States are offering dual degrees with a Masters in Public Health. To be a better provider or better provide for your patients, a public health professional is essential.

The previous director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, MPH said, “I loved clinical practice, but in public health, you can impact more than one person at a time. The whole society is your patient.” Is it not time that we stop looking down on the health professionals that are striving to move the field forward? With public health professionals, we can move our current healthcare system from a focused secondary and tertiary prevention model, and instead begin the necessary changes to our society in terms of primary prevention.

Public health professionals will change the future—we hope that you can see that.

  Author Spot Light:

Jazmine R. Quintana, is a Master’s in Public Health candidate at the University of Florida (UF) in the Social and Behavioral Science concentration. Jazmine is also one of the current co-directors for the UF Future Voices of Public Health blog. In Spring 2018, she will be interning with the UF Mobile Outreach Clinic to further understand the social determinants of health.