real life public health isn’t sexy

The field of public health does not lend itself to being glamorous or satisfying after a full day’s work.

I currently work as a Community Health Worker (CHW) in Detroit supporting a NIH funded grant using behavior change techniques to tackle childhood obesity among African-American adolescents.

Snapshot: Thursday, December 1st, 2011

After a meeting with my supervisor, I had three family appointments scheduled for the day. My first appointment was with a family that needed to be caught up after missing 2 weeks. We provide transportation for families that come into the office, so I had called them a cab. However, the cab company had not sent the cab after 45min. and the appointment had to be rescheduled for another day. My next appointment was with a Teen who obviously preferred not to be meeting with his Mom and me. We worked through topics on Hunger and Cravings, but had to finish early because I had another family appointment coming up. After waiting 10min., I called my last family to confirm and they had forgotten they were supposed to come in today.

I spent my 8 hours that day driving a lot and meeting with only my supervisor and one family. It was a long, trying day to only be able to check a few items on my weekly to-do list. The over-used quote that I have to keep reminding myself is:

“An ounce of public health is worth a pound of health care”

Hopefully somewhere down the line the families and Teens that I work with will someday use the skills and information that I share. All I can do is offer my knowledge and support for their efforts while reinforcing their positive changes.

Public health has become a buzzword along with the growth of the global health field. It’s great that health has become such a prominent topic of interest, but not everyone is going to save a life or change entire communities. Buzzwords don’t make the best career choices. It may be that you spend all day tracking people down and hoping some knowledge sticks, maybe you make posters for wellness events, or even get covered in dirt planting vegetables with kids who prefer to play video games. Public health isn’t sexy; work can be dirty, sometimes lonely, unappreciated and often unnoticed.

Public health is not a new field. It has been around for a long time, but in the media it has most often been portrayed by medical doctor drama series that always have to include twisted webs of personal relationships and hookups in broom closets from Boston to Kandahar.

Public health is intense and has its own great stories and dramas – can’t these stories tell themselves without the backdrop of casual sex and relationships gone wrong? When will the public be ready to watch a show that is about real public health?

The truth is that although public health may not be as glamorous as a television drama, but it is full of exciting adventures, dramatic endings, and stories of hope.

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