Beyond Individual Healthcare: Public Health Practitioners
When we think of healthcare professionals, typically, the first thing that comes to mind is a doctor. However, public health practitioners also play a vital role in our health, working to prevent or mitigate the spread of disease across populations. While hospital clinicians treat disease at the individual level, public health professionals work to create and implement policies that impact the health of people. Thus, they often work in government or administration.
Public health practitioners may be found in hospitals but do not work directly with patients. Instead, they oversee systems and policies within a hospital to ensure safety and the highest quality of care. This may include verifying that medical equipment is functioning correctly, maintaining a sanitary environment, and establishing and adhering to protocols.
Though public health organizations and practitioners can address disease on a large or small scale, it is the efforts of organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) during outbreaks such as H1N1, Ebola, and, of course, COVID-19 that have caught the public’s attention.
During such outbreaks, these organizations advocate best practices such as handwashing while ensuring that communities have the proper resources (clean food and water, sufficient medical staff and supplies) to slow the spread of disease. At the same time, they work behind the scenes to investigate the factors contributing to these outbreaks.
What is the Difference Between Community Medicine and Public Health?
Public health addresses the policies and regulations governing healthcare on a systemic level and diseases that affect groups of people. While public health is typically far-reaching and broad in scope, community medicine focuses on a narrow population sector, often targeting underrepresented groups such as immigrants, minorities, or individuals with rare diseases.
There is an overlap between the two fields, focusing on disease prevention among groups of people. However, public health workers typically address disease in the realms of education or government—by creating a public awareness campaign or changing governmental policies—while community medicine workers work directly with community members to find solutions.
Public health and community medicine also differ in the lens through which they address disease. While public health investigates disease primarily from an epidemiological perspective, community medicine examines health from multiple angles, including mental and physical health and the social determinants of health, such as race, economics, and environment. According to the latter view, none of these factors can be isolated but instead exist in contribution to one another.
Public Health and Community Medicine in Practice
A public health worker might link a disease outbreak in a particular region to unsanitary drinking water. A community health worker might take this further, pointing to systemic poverty and certain cultural attitudes as the underlying factors contributing to disease. In this second example, other measures beyond cleaning the water would be recommended to address the issue’s root and create lasting change.
While both fields can potentially target small communities, the approach is different. For example, a public health worker might roll out a public awareness campaign in a rural community designed to reduce the prevalence of alcoholism.
By contrast, a community health worker might work with that community and the same goal but refine their target population to a particular demographic such as immigrants. Furthermore, they would also address the cultural and socioeconomic factors contributing to alcoholism in this community. They would then work directly with community members to explore solutions to this issue and anticipate potential barriers to the community adopting recommended practices. Thus, the focus of community medicine is more hands-on and targeted in its approach.
How Does a Community Medicine Degree Differ from a Public Health Degree?
As within the fields themselves, there is much overlap between a community medicine degree and a public health degree. These are both typically two-year degrees. Someone with a degree in community medicine can still pursue a career in public health and vice versa. However, a community medicine degree program typically features more fieldwork that prepares students to work directly in their communities and more curricula focused on the social determinants of health. In contrast, a public health degree program may feature more curricula centered around disease mechanisms, policy development, and legislation.
Careers in Public Health
Some careers in public health include:
- Public Health Engineer
- Health Promotion Program Coordinator
- Hospital Administrator
- Population Health Specialist
Careers in Community Medicine
Some community medicine careers include:
- Community Health Researcher
- Community Health/Services Director
- Director of Primary Care Practice Management
- Health and Wellness Director
- Health Equity Director
Expand Your Options: Consider a Career in Community Medicine
Whether your goal is to work in community medicine or public health, KGI’s Master of Science in Community Medicine (MSCM) program will prepare you well for a thriving career in these fields immediately upon graduation. You will also be set up for success if you choose to pursue medical school or another advanced healthcare degree in the future.
One highlight of the program is the capstone project, where you will work directly with a community to address a concern and enact solutions. This is an opportunity to understand and connect with this community more deeply and be a changemaker, playing an essential role in reducing the disease burden in underrepresented communities.
Want to know more about what you can do with a degree in community and the diverse careers in science and healthcare? Download our guide, There’s More to Medicine Than Meets the Eye: Your Guide to Careers in Healthcare and Applied Life Science.
In our guide, you’ll learn all about the degrees you need to get you to your dream job. You’ll also discover how the different industries within STEM, healthcare, and the life sciences interact with and impact each other.
Don’t miss out on this valuable resource!