During the first full week of April, all of us public health folks nerd out on National Public Health Week – an observation used to recognize the ways in which public health professionals have improved the health of our nation and highlight areas we still need to work on.
National Public Health Week is also a great time to help others understand exactly what public health professionals do. It’s gotten better over the past few years, but when I was working on my Master of Public Health (MPH), most people thought I was going to be a nurse. Although there are certainly nurses with MPHs and there are even Public Health Nurses, not all MPHs are nurses. In fact, public health professionals work on lots of different community issues, have a broad range of skills, and can be assets in any type of organization (not just hospitals and health departments!).
I’ve worked in the public health field for 12 years now and have been surrounded with unbelievably skilled mentors and colleagues. I’ve also had the joy of teaching thousands of budding public health professionals. Based on these experiences, I’ve uncovered 5 things a public health professional can do for your organization and community (no matter what type of work you do):
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOUR COMMUNITY’S ISSUES ARE
Public health professionals know how to find data that are hidden in the deepest recesses of the internet (and aren’t scared to use books, either!). They also know how to gather data directly from community members when there aren’t any published data available. These skills help us figure out what your community’s biggest issues are, the sub-populations in your community that are affected the most, and how your community compares to other communities.
How does this information help your organization and community?
- It allows you to tailor your programs and services for the sub-populations (e.g., specific age groups or neighborhoods) that are most affected, which is a much more efficient use of resources than focusing on the entire community.
- It gives you a baseline measurement of your community’s issues, which you can later use to determine how much of an impact your organization may have had.
- If you’re gathering new data from the community, people are more likely to have a vested interest in the programs or services you’re providing.
- Knowing the extent of your community’s needs will help you write a more compelling needs statement and make a stronger case for grant funding.
- It prevents you from addressing an issue that doesn’t exist. You may think your community is struggling with something but if the data say otherwise, you’re probably wasting valuable resources trying to address it.
IDENTIFY THE LARGER-SCALE FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO YOUR COMMUNITY’S ISSUES
Public health professionals are taught to look at the really big picture when considering why a population is unhealthy. We know there are individual factors, like not exercising, that may contribute to a person being overweight. But we also understand there are much larger factors that must be considered if we want to make a real change. These larger factors include things such as having sidewalks and bike lanes, access to a grocery store, or environmental regulations that limit exposure to air pollution. These factors require policy, systems, or environmental changes, which can have a more significant, sustainable impact on your community.
FIND REAL & FEASIBLE SOLUTIONS TO YOUR COMMUNITY’S ISSUES
Once you know what your community’s issues and contributing factors are, you can then find or develop effective solutions.
Remember those data unearthing skills? Public health professionals can also use those to find evidence-based programs or best practices that will improve issues and contributing factors specific to your community. And if there isn’t an existing solution, public health professionals can develop new programs, services, policies, and practices that are rooted in research.
Most importantly, public health professionals understand the importance of working with the community to develop solutions. They’re comfortable planning and facilitating key stakeholder interviews, focus groups, surveys, and community listening sessions to gather the community’s ideas for feasible solutions. They also know how to compile, analyze, and apply all this information once the data collection is over.
And once you’ve developed a final solution, public health professionals are able to facilitate cross-sector discussion and collaboration, which means you can have an entire team of organizations, community members, and elected officials working together to implement your solution. Aside from making it more likely you’ll succeed, this collaboration screams sustainability, which increases your chances for grant funding.
GET GRANT MONEY TO FUND YOUR PROGRAMS & SERVICES
“I chose this field for the money”, said no public health professional ever. We’re used to working for organizations with very little money and limited resources, so most of us have had to write grants to secure funds for new initiatives we wanted to implement.
Most public health professionals are also very passionate about community health and have a career’s worth of experience persuading others to make personal and community-level health changes. All this advocacy and persuading means we write very persuasive grant proposals.
HELP YOU UNDERSTAND WHEN IT’S TIME TO CHANGE YOUR APPROACH
Many organizations are so committed to their approach that they never consider it might be time to change. Even if they do consider a change, they may not have the in-house skills or capacity to evaluate their efforts, so they probably don’t know how effective (or ineffective) their efforts are.
Many public health professionals are skilled at evaluation. These skills help them determine how your community’s issues have changed over time and measure how much of an impact your organization has had on these changes. Based on their findings, they can help you figure out if it’s time to scrap your programs or services or simply make some small changes so you can be more effective. Public health professionals can also help you create basic evaluation tools and processes so you can be proactive about measuring the impact of future programs.
So, to summarize all this public health lingo – if you’re ready to make a bigger impact in your community, it’s time to get yourself a public health professional! Upstream Consulting has amazing public health professionals who are available to work with you and your community. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you!
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