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How Public Health Has Defined Itself

Submitted by on March 31, 2020 – 6:49 pm
portrait of Jacky Dick

Jacqueline Dick

I have spent much of my professional life explaining to family and friends what we do in Public Health– then came Covid 19.

People generally know what a nurse does, or a lawyer, a banker or a teacher. Until a month ago it was not so true for Public Health workers. In the past, I used examples to explain Public Health such as; it is how you get clean water, policy for seat belt laws, or access to nutritious food for all.

What is Public Health?

Public Health is community health and an umbrella term for three actions, preventing disease, promoting health, protecting communities. Now Covid 19 has hit us and no marketing campaign could have been more effective, television, radio, social media, brochures, flyers , politicians, superstars, movie stars, and even the President are talking about Public Health. Now everybody knows what these two words mean -it has become a household name overnight.

Just one month ago students knew that obesity was an epidemic and they were learning terms like endemic and pandemic. I am pretty certain that no student will ever again ask me to explain pandemic –it has become infamous! People say that fame and recognition will take you to places you might not otherwise enter. Covid 19 has brought new attention and recognition to Public Health. .

Why We Need Public Health

Public Health offers truth. How do experts give advice, make judgements or set policy? Public Health follows a pattern every time a decision is made. Public Health is the model of the three core functions: Assessment, Policy Development and Assurance. These are the backbone.
Assessment insists on data, the how, the why, the what. Epidemiologists study what exactly is going on with that curve and the direction it is taking. Policies are developed based on the numbers, the honest data that tells the story – instructing us and guiding us towards the next move. The data allows the professionals, the politicians and even the President to access the facts as they must make informed decisions. Finally comes Assurance, this is where the superheroes enter the story. The doctors and nurses and health care workers, community health workers, health educators countless organizations all working to assure that the crowd knows what to do, how to do it and where to get help and support. These are the people of Public Health who work tirelessly to ensure that the community is the healthiest it can possibly be no matter the zip code.

And so, this is how Public Health is handling the Corona virus – defining it by remaining steadfast, trustworthy, and truthful. Public Health cares about the global community. Public Health does not honor boundaries; there are no exceptions, no first class tickets, premium club memberships or front row seats. Public Health considers the whole community under its umbrella –and works to protect all from the storm.

In a month or less our whole world has changed and so has a part of my job. I no longer have to define what Public Health is –that has become common knowledge. Public Health has defined itself; I only have to underline how it is honest and trustworthy and is working tirelessly to protect everyone. Stay well, stay safe, stay informed and wash your hands!

Jacqueline Dick, M.S., is the NECC Program Coordinator and Professor of the Public Health Associates Degree and Community Health Worker certificate programs. She can be reached at