When I first told my parents that I wanted to get a degree in public health, they kind of just smiled and nodded. I don't think that they knew what it really was. Now, after many explanations, my dad proudly explains to other people that it deals with getting safe water and vaccinations to populations. My mom, however, is still a little confused. Er.
However, apparently college students get what it is. An article in the Washington Post focuses on how hot the public health classes and majors are on college campuses. I wish that they went into the graduate degree level as well, as those are the people likely to work in public health.
There's a lot to be speculated about why public health is so cool nowadays. In the article, Dr. Thomas Coates pointed his finger directly at HIV/AIDS, saying that it raised the public awareness. I don't know if that's entirely true (and I think he's biased - look at his bio!). Even after the HIV epidemic became large and publicly well-known, public health was still not totally cool. I think a lot of factors have helped public health become a hot commodity - the terrorist attacks of September 11th (and the subsequent nationwide discussion of chemical and biological warfare), the prominence of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other global foundations and their focus on global health, and the culmination of numerous articles on public health issues domestically (i.e. food contaimination scares, drug contamination scares, the growing number of obese Americans, etc). Regardless of the reason, I think it's great that there is more interest in public health.
As an MD/MPH, I think it's also very important for physicians to be interested in public health. My medical school class was pretty split between those who understood and were interested in public health and those who couldn't have cared less. The student quoted at the end of the article was so optimistic about public health and so pessimistic about medicine (she was planning on getting an MD). That's a sad prospect. Do public health people really think medicine is still its old, stody self? Perhaps it still is, but there is still a lot to be had for public health-minded people who want to go into medicine. I have only gotten the greatest response to my public health degree among my classmates and my attendings. It's a hot commodity in medical schools, just like in undersgrad. I think that the medical profession is slowly changing towards a more global perspective - global in the sense of geography as well as disciplines - and that, in the end, it will be better for doctors and patients.
The article just got me thinking about public health and how it relates to my career plans. I feel as though my public health mind has been put on hold while I'm in residency, as it's hard to do both. Then, I'm reminded of my public health training every time I work with patients to provide more comprehensive care.