Monday, July 9, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk Public Health

I had known for years that mopeds were dangerous and helmets crucial.  I’m a public health student, specializing in health policy.  I'll be a 'health services researcher' when I grow up and these are the kinds of things we believe.  Plus, I grew up in motorcycle-dense Taipei.  I remember crowding around the safety campaign posters after school to gawk at photos of helmet-less, headless bodies.  Then again, I grew up in Taipei.  So I’ve also felt the thrill of whizzing up a mountain on the back of a motorcycle, tilting from side to side, and I know the convenience of mopeds. It wasn’t until the death of the kindest ER doc I know that these safety beliefs became real.  Afterward, my mentor made me promise that I’d never ride a moped.  He didn’t have to.  I knew it by heart by then:  Mopeds are dangerous.  Helmets are crucial.  

We are shaped by the stories close to us.  Yet public health, by its nature, looks at people from a distance, focusing  on populations rather than individuals faces.  This is useful in spotting trends and making policy recommendations, but it also means that despite solid research, public health findings often don’t seem convincing.  Sometimes, it takes a death to shake us.  Other times, a happy ending will do just fine.

While I am still learning the art of public health storytelling, Professor David Hemenway at the Harvard School of Public Health has compiled a collection of compelling public health success stories he may or may not have shamelessly shilled in multiple classes.  In it, he uses a neat concept to describe public health: it is lifesaving work that often happens behind the scenes, "while we were sleeping."  It moderates the air we breathe, the cars we drive, and the drugs we take, even as we are blissfully unaware.

In the coming weeks, months, and years, as I sharpen my public health research skillz, I hope to use this place to articulate just what exactly public health is, why you should care, and what great, non-creepy, things are happening while you're asleep.

Policy Implication: Public health protects your life in ways that are often unnoticed; better awareness of its successes/tragedies can enhance the public’s reception.

Declaration of Competing Interest  Neither While We Were Sleeping, nor DHem (as the cool kids call him), nor anything else that will be mentioned here sponsors this blog in anyway.  I just like his book, message, and the grades he gave.  My views do not represent those of any of my institutions.

1 comment:

  1. interesting blog joy, im sure I will get to hear a jhu biased view of public health ;)