The Future of Public Health: Skills for Helping Communities Thrive

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The future of public health impacts all of us. Whether we live in big cities or rural towns, we all rely on the expertise of public health workers to improve the safety and well-being of our communities. And if you’re intrigued by the prospect of having a positive impact on the future of public health, you’re not limited to a clinical role. Non-clinical careers are diverse and include roles like preventive health educators, researchers, social workers, first responders, public health advisors, nutritionists, sanitation workers, community health workers, and more. Each of these career paths provides an excellent opportunity for people who are passionate about improving health in their community.

Because public health professionals follow such a wide range of career paths, an excellent way to kick off your future in this important field is with an online bachelor’s degree in general studies with a concentration in healthcare. This educational background can provide you with the foundational skills you need to prepare for a career working in a hospital, medical clinic, nonprofit organization, private practice, nursing home, community health center, or other setting.

Healthcare Professionals Must Adapt to Future Trends in Public Health

The landscape of public health is changing. Technology, food distribution, new policies, pharmaceutical regulations, and demographics all play a role. As these factors continue to evolve, it’s important for healthcare professionals to stay abreast of future trends in public health.

Increasing Access to Healthy Foods

What we eat impacts all parts of our lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, while our diet is among the leading causes of obesity, our food choices affect more than our waistline. How we eat can also impact our mental health, as well as our risk for diabetes, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, periodontal disease, and more.

Unfortunately, many communities face a lack of access to or education about healthy food. People in these underserved areas, where the population lives in what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) calls a “food desert,” find it difficult to maintain proper nutrition. The latest USDA report indicates that, as of 2015, about 23.5 million Americans lived in a food desert. Because half of this number are low income, this indicates that the issue disproportionately impacts impoverished communities.

In food deserts, places to buy healthy food, even conventional supermarkets, may be hard to find. Not only that, but limited education around nutrition means it’s difficult for local residents to make healthy choices. In addition, nutritious food, like fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, is often the most unaffordable choice. The healthiest choice is not always the most economic in the short-term for struggling families. But unhealthy food choices may result in higher healthcare costs in the long run.

Future trends in public health will include innovative measures designed to improve access and education to food that promotes positive nutrition and well-being. Public health professionals will lead the charge in addressing food deserts, making nutritious food more affordable, and educating the public on healthy lifestyle choices. Each of these measures will contribute to the overall health of communities that struggle most.

Taking Action to End the Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis has been on the rise since the 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies began making opioids more available as a method of pain management, at the same time reassuring the medical community of their safety. Unfortunately, as physicians began prescribing the medication with increased frequency, their addictive properties led patients to misuse them. This has led to more than 700,000 deaths due to overdose since 1998, and the problem continues to broaden in scope. According to the CDC, the death rate from opioid overdoses was six times higher in 2017 than 1999.

However, the future of public health includes a focused, targeted effort to address the opioid epidemic. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared it a public health emergency in 2017, and public health professionals will play a vital role in reducing the impact of this crisis. Their actions, according to the HHS’s 5-Point Strategy, include making overdose-reversing drugs more available, increasing access to services that offer treatment and recovery, educating our communities on the epidemic, supporting pain and addiction research, and improving pain management practices.

Leveraging Big Data and Deep Learning to Combat Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases, from the common cold to the flu, involve the spread of pathogens like viruses and bacteria, and they can be extremely dangerous. Some of the most notorious infectious diseases include measles, Ebola, malaria, Zika virus, and sexually transmitted infections. While we can successfully fight  many of these diseases with proper hygiene or vaccines, they still pose a significant threat to the public due to factors like antibiotic resistance in the case of bacterial infections.

Fortunately, technology is influencing future trends in public health, offering solutions that would not have been possible before. With the rise of big data and its analysis, public health professionals are discovering ways to predict infectious disease outbreaks and contain them before they strike hard. According to HealthTech, data scientists in the public health sector are beginning to leverage deep learning — smart algorithms that enable computers to adapt and teach themselves — and predictive modeling to keep communities at risk of contagions safe and healthy.

Learn More About Starting a Career in Public Health

As the future of public health continues to evolve, the need for passionate, skilled public health professionals is on the rise. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a projected 16% increase in the need for health educators and community health workers between 2016 and 2026. When compared to the 7% overall job growth across industries, this shows the increasing value of public health professionals in the future.

If you’re motivated by the prospect of impacting the health and well-being of communities, consider beginning with an online bachelor’s degree in healthcare from Maryville University. These online programs can give you the foundation you need to pursue a clinical or a non-clinical career and make a difference in the well-being of others. Apply today and play a role in the dynamic future of public health.

 

Sources:

American Public Health Association, What Is Public Health?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Adult Obesity Causes & Consequences”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Understanding the Epidemic”

HealthTech, “3 Big Data Trends in Healthcare Using Predictive Analytics”

Mayo Clinic, Infectious diseases

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Healthier Food Retail: An Action Guide for Public Health Practitioners”

NCBI, “Predicting Infectious Disease Using Deep Learning and Big Data”

NCBI, “Relationship between Diet and Mental Health in a Young Adult Appalachian College Population”

Public Health Foundation, “The Opioid Crisis: PHF Helps You to Respond Effectively”

State of Rhode Island Department of Health, Infectious Diseases – A to Z list

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Educators and Community Health Workers

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Secretary Price Announces HHS Strategy for Fighting Opioid Crisis”

United States Department of Agriculture, “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences”

World Health Organization, “Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases: Report of the joint WHO/FAO expert consultation”