Trends in Public Health Research
In today’s rapidly changing health care environment, population-based initiatives are playing an increasingly important role in improving the nation’s health. Going beyond the medical traditions of individual diagnosis, treatment and cure, public health researchers are now focusing on societal approaches to the promotion of health and the prevention of disease and injury among diverse populations and the communities in which they live. Wide-ranging initiatives are taking place in states and communities across the nation, emphasizing such issues as:
Control of diseases like cancer, coronary artery disease and stroke;
Improvement and redesign of health services integration and delivery;
Prevention programs at schools and worksites;
Evaluating and redesigning public and private insurance and funding mechanisms;
Outreach and intervention in populations at risk, such as the aged and the mentally ill;
Violence and injury prevention;
Improving the quality of the environments in which people live and work; and, changing public policies that impact health and health behavior.
Need for PhD Faculty
National trends are driving the demand for PhD faculty in public and community health. Entry-level education in health-related professions is moving from undergraduate to graduate preparation. There are a considerable number of degree programs nationwide preparing individuals for entry into the profession at the baccalaureate level, and the number of individuals who will seek advanced degrees to take on faculty roles in these programs is expected to increase significantly in the next few years.
According to the Council on Linkages between Academia and Public Health Practice and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a critical shortage of PhD-trained individuals needed to fill the academic positions of these new programs, advance technology and replace faculty who are retiring.
It was also concluded in reports by the Institute of Medicine that U.S. public health workers need additional training to meet new challenges posed by globalization, medical advances and an aging and increasingly diverse population. According to one report, less than one-fifth of the nation’s 450,000 public health workers receive the education and training needed to do their jobs most effectively.
This illustrates the need for advanced education and training. To ensure the health of the community, there must be a strong public health infrastructure, and a competent public health workforce is an essential component of meeting this challenge.
New Challenges Present Need for New Research
A recent article in Health Affairs describes the top ten challenges and opportunities that will shape public health and medicine in the United States in the coming years. Social determinants and intractable health disparities among different populations rank at the top of challenges that will require integrated study and action. While social indicators have long been identified as having an impact on health, an emerging concept is that “cumulative stresses from various sources-social class, income, employment, housing, home environment-operating measurably through common physiologic pathways affect vulnerability to disease” (McGinnis, 2006). Collaboration between public health and medicine as well as innovative, sustainable and well-integrated research is vital to providing evidence-based interventions to reduce these health disparities and enhance the health of the public.
As part of the effort to improve health, there is increasing emphasis on prevention. In some cases, prevention will require lifestyle changes that are relatively inexpensive, but may be difficult for individuals to accomplish. However, many diseases are a combination of environmental, behavioral and genetic factors. Consequently, additional research will be needed on how people live and the lifestyles they embrace. Additional health research on vulnerable populations will be needed to provide a framework for public policy changes that could prevent and/or alleviate the major causes of death and disability.