What is public health?” I get blank stares back at me when I ask my student colleagues that question. To many students, public health was a class that they had to take during first year. They vaguely remember something about Affordable Care Act. “Epidemiology statistics” is usually the Powerpoint slide that gets skipped when we study for exams.
The truth is, you already know what public health is. We live and breathe it every day as health care providers. We are at the forefront of public health, working at the interface between health care and patients. We don’t panic when a 40-year-old patient comes in complaining of blur at near because we know that 40 is the magic age when accommodation starts giving up. That is a piece of useful epidemiology information that we all know. We find creative ways to educate our diabetic patients on the importance of blood sugar control using empathetic words, metaphors and sometimes coercion if necessary.
That is the health education and promotion that we are engaged in everyday. You know more about public health than you think. It dictates the way we practice and dictates the health behavior of the patients that we care for.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) has 31 sections covering a wide range of topics and issues that encompass different aspects of public health. In reality, public health is a dynamic field that offers innovative ways to tackle a public health problem even from angles that might seem irrelevant. As the national liaison, I work with the Vision Care Section (VCS) which specifically addresses vision public health concerns.
You can also get involved. One of the VCS goals is to create a greater presence of public health awareness on all optometry campuses. You can get involved by assuming an active leadership role at your school or by simply becoming a student member of the APHA.
Our first student chapter was established just this past spring at UHCO. Since its initial launch, students of SPHVCA have completed several live presentations, including ones for staff members at Good Neighbor Health Clinic and the Hope Clinic in Houston. Most recently, the group helped out during a Mayors Back-to-School Event with vision screenings and informational brochures on child eyesight to parents and kids.
So, what dictates the way you practice?
For more information about APHA VCS or starting a student chapter, visit https://www.apha.org/apha-communities/member-sections/vision-care or contact the APHA National Liaison Lili Liang.