Interprofessional Education and Practice: Implications for Public Health

Interprofessional Education and Practice: Implications for Public Health

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Two heads are better than one”? Well, it’s now a proven fact that working with others to resolve an issue is more productive than trying to figure it out on your own.

Professional fields, such as public health, value intradisciplinary teamwork as well as interdisciplinary teamwork. Through collaboration, innovation often emerges to address complex health issues.

But why does this matter for public health as compared to other fields? Let’s take a step back to understand what health actually is.

WHO’s Definition of Health Goes beyond Mere Physical Health

One of the first things we learn in the field of public health is the definition of health. In its 1948 constitution, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health in its broader sense as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

This definition takes a holistic view of health, not just the absence of bodily diseases. It implies that health encompasses multiple layers, such as one’s social well-being.

The Relationship of Health and Multiple Influences on Health

How does this definition of health align with the influences on health as described in the socio-ecological framework? The socio-ecological framework illustrates that there are multiple levels of influences on our health, ranging from:

  • Intrapersonal/individual factors (genetics)
  • Interpersonal factors (culture, family and values)
  • Organizational factors (faith-based organizations, schools and community organizations)
  • Community influences (neighborhood and healthcare)
  • Public policy (laws, media and the food industry)

These influences extend beyond the core public health disciplines of behavioral science/health education, biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology and health services administration. As public health practitioners, our need to learn and collaborate with other disciplines is paramount.

For instance, interprofessional education and practice can work together to address a specific public health issue like obesity.

Interpersonal Factors

Parents and other family members can influence a child’s dietary habits and physical activity. A public health practitioner can consider these collaborations as opportunities.

  • How can we work with social workers to understand family dynamics and intervene to promote healthy habits?
  • What is the role of sociologists, psychologists or anthropologists in understanding culture and values contributing to healthy habits?

Organizational Factors

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables can influence one’s ability to eat healthy and prevent obesity. A public health practitioner interested in addressing obesity trends in a particular community ought to consider the following:

  • How can we work with local schools to incorporate a school garden, so that children learn how to grow healthy fruits and vegetables?
  • What is the role of local religious leaders in promoting healthy lifestyles in their houses of worship?

Community Influences

“Place” matters as the PBS series “Unnatural Causes” eloquently shows. Where an individual lives, works or plays either limits or promotes opportunities for healthy habits (e.g. safety of neighborhoods or easy access to healthy food options).

  • How do public health practitioners work with local/city officials and law enforcement to address security issues or other matters affecting healthy activities, like walking or running?
  • What is the role of parks and recreation services in ensuring amenities for healthy lifestyles?

Public Policy

Easy access to health care services is a well-known contributor to healthy behaviors. Access to health and health insurance is aligned with socio-economic status. Lower socio-economic status also correlates with obesity trends (for example, cheaper food products are often high in calories and less nutritious).

  • How does a public health practitioner work with policy makers to address access to healthy foods for lower socio-economic groups?
  • How can we work with the food industry to address childhood obesity?

Even if you are not a public health practitioner, I encourage you to think about how what you do can affect the health and well-being of individuals, communities, nations and the world. Consider also what you can do to support public health initiatives to promote wellness and prevent diseases at all levels of influence, according to the socio-ecological framework.

April Is National Minority Health Month: See How You Can Help

April Is National Minority Health Month: See How You Can Help

My first experience with “minority health” came during my Master of Public Health degree program. I served as a member of the speakers’ committee for the annual Minority Health Conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

We sought to raise awareness about issues related to health disparities and how to take collaborative action across different professions. Our participants included academic scholars, researchers, public health practitioners, community leaders, human rights advocates and policy makers.

We often hear the terms “health disparities,” “health inequities” and “social determinants” as they relate to populations, locally, nationally and globally. So let’s start with a few basic definitions:

Health Equity

Health equity means achieving the highest level of health for all people. It requires valuing every human being equally with continuous efforts to address avoidable social and economic inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices. Health equity also seeks the elimination of health and healthcare disparities.

Health Disparities

Health disparities are defined as a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with one’s social or economic status. Health disparities negatively affect groups of people who have experienced greater social and/or economic obstacles to health due to characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. These characteristics include but are not limited to:

  • Racial or ethnic group
  • Religion
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Mental health
  • Physical disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Geographic location

Social Determinants of Health

Social determinants of health refers to environmental conditions in which people are born, live, work and play that affect a wide array of health and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.

Ways to Observe National Minority Health Month

There are several easy ways to participate in National Minority Health Month. This year’s theme is “Bridging Health Equity across Communities.” During April, consider doing the following activities:

Stay Informed

  • Learn more about your own family’s medical history and keep a good record of your health conditions and treatment plans.
  • Read, watch or listen to local news about emerging health conditions in your community.
  • Obtain details about culturally and linguistically appropriate services.

Get Involved

  • Attend a local event.
  • Join community-based organizations or a local health department task force on minority health.
  • Use and share the resources from reputable organizations.

Get Connected

  • Use social media groups that engage in discussions about minority health and help spread the word.
  • Sign up for OMH newsletters to receive email updates on Office of Minority Health and health disparities issues.
  • Contact the Department of Health and Human Services if you have questions about National Minority Health Month.

Public Health Involving Minorities Is a Global Concern

National Minority Health Month recognizes health disparities in the United States, but coping with public health issues involving minorities remains both a local and a global problem. Fortunately, there are local public health events that address issues disproportionately affecting minorities, such as the Houston Heart Failure Management Conference, Save a Life and the Adult Congenital Heart Symposium.

In addition, international organizations have addressed global public health issues affecting minorities. The national ministries of health in the African region, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization/African Region are evaluating Ebola outbreak response capabilities, which have been strengthened through my collaboration.

The best way to teach more consumers about public health – and especially the health of minority groups – is through education. Staying informed, getting involved and getting connected are powerful ways to raise awareness and learn about the health problems affecting minorities.