Lessons of the Pandemic: Public Health in the 21st Century

The COVID pandemic represents one of the most critical threats that healthcare professionals have faced in recent memory. The pandemic caused severe illness and death for people around the globe and clearly showed the strengths and weaknesses of public health policies and infrastructure.

An entire generation of healthcare administrators still enrolled in college will benefit from the lessons of the pandemic. These encompass a range of issues, from healthcare data collection to disease surveillance systems and how early warnings of potential pandemics are conveyed. 

Earning a Masters in Science in Health Science – Public Health helps prepare professionals for careers that focus on public health, including the critical area of how to help prevent and manage pandemics. History shows they will need those skills. The next pandemic is just around the corner.

The Expansion and Success of Public Health

Over the past several decades, public health has expanded far beyond its original scope and led to improvements in many different areas of life. Public health initially focused on controlling and preventing infectious diseases. It now includes food safety, child and maternal health, screenings for specific diseases, tobacco control, chronic disease prevention and control, emergency preparedness, environmental health, policy-making, and strategic leadership in community healthcare.

Public health has led to improvements in all of these areas. For example, the percentage of smokers in the U.S. population dropped from 20.9 percent to 14 percent between 2005 and 2019, even as smokers increased worldwide. Other notable achievements in the area of public health include:

  • Mass vaccinations
  • Increased motor-vehicle safety
  • Safer workplaces
  • Fewer deaths from heart disease and stroke
  • Safer and healthier foods
  • Healthier mothers and babies

But the main lesson of the pandemic for public health professionals is that improvements are needed. Areas of focus involve technology and disparities in access to clinical healthcare.

Lessons of the Pandemic Lead to Calls for Change

Writing for the Boston Globe, MIT professors Dr. Susan Blumenthal and David Sun Kong called for a “once in a generation reimagining of America’s public health infrastructure.” The primary change they call for is using more advanced technology in public health.

The pair wrote that the pandemic exposed deficiencies in several areas.

  • The early warning systems of disease surveillance
  • The real-time collection of healthcare data
  • Notable data collection gaps in the gathering of information on patient race and ethnicity, testing, contact tracing, antiviral and vaccine availability, and new device development
  • The ability to gather data on the sustainability of the supply chain for producing and distributing medical equipment and resources

They recommend a new, multidisciplinary academic field of public health technology that integrates “diverse expertise” in public health, technology, engineering, data analytics, and design. These experts can help build products, programs, and systems that modernize the nation’s public health infrastructure. Much of that infrastructure involves overcoming interoperability issues, which refers to the ability of different computer systems to share information efficiently and securely.

Others have reached similar conclusions after considering the lessons of the pandemic. A recent Institute for Alternative Futures report funded by the Robert Woods Foundation and the Kresge Foundation offered recommendations for improvements in public health. They include improved access to healthcare information through smartphones, improved technology for healthcare systems, and closing the growing technological, economic, educational, and health disparity gaps between patient populations.

Careers in Public Health

The focus on public health has only increased the many career paths for health degree graduates. Some of the most popular choices include the following.

Community nutrition specialist. These specialists work with disadvantaged populations, focusing on family and child health relating to their diet and access to healthy food.

Health education. This expansive field includes those who work at international organizations that focus on health to local community centers. They provide health education and services to specific communities, typically underserved and poor.

Epidemiologists. This area requires earning a master’s degree. Epidemiologists investigate and assess patterns and causes of diseases and injuries.

Global health worker. Global health professionals work in underserved communities around the world. They provide people with healthcare education and connect them with needed services.

Policy analyst. Public health policy analysts work at all levels of government, nonprofit, and private organizations. They focus on assessing public health systems and recommending changes that make policies and programs more effective.

The Touro University Worldwide MS in Health Science – Public Health prepares students for leadership roles in these careers and others that focus on public health and disease prevention. The program requires students to earn 36 credits with ten core and two elective courses. The course costs only $500 per credit hour, and TUW offers a range of tuition assistance.

For those interested in careers in public health, earning a master’s degree opens the door to a wide range of career possibilities. With the renewed emphasis on the importance of public health, there’s never been a better time to enter this fascinating and vital area of healthcare.

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