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November-December 2021 - Volume 66 - Issue 6

  • Eric Ford, PhD, MPH
  • 1096-9012
  • 1944-7396
  • 6 issues per year
  • 1.507

From the November/December Issue...

On the first day of Public Health 101, students learn three core functions: assessment, assurance, and policy development. To that list I would add education, as any profession has a duty to develop the people who work in its institutions (see Footnote1). While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an important institution, the responsibility for the public’s health is spread across numerous levels of government (state and county health departments, among others). And so, both state-supported and private universities have created more than 60 accredited schools of public health and even more degree programs to fill the need for trained professionals in their communities. Therefore, I want to focus here on the failures of our educational system in its core public health function.

Schools of public health ought to form the intellectual center of the profession. However, after major infectious diseases such as smallpox and polio were eradicated or brought under control, chronic illnesses became the leading causes of premature mortality. Public health practitioners, researchers, and educators lost their raison d’être. Who needs shoe-leather epidemiologists to trace and map infectious disease outbreaks when they are so rare? Moreover, when an outbreak does occur, it can be managed by local health systems, right?

Recognizing this new reality, public health education and research either shrank dramatically or turned to other endeavors. On the one hand, environmental health experts were largely marginalized while waiting for climate change research to become a publicly funded reality. Many environmental health departments became mere shells of their former selves, relegated to teaching their required courses. On the other hand, epidemiology and biostatistics grew as professions by studying medical interventions and pharmacology. Meanwhile, health behavior and policy researchers/educators went their own way altogether.​

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