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Why Being a Local Public Health Official Matters | Mar 22, 2016

Public health students have many options when looking at career choices. Some people may choose to become activists, others become policy makers. However, some people become public health officials, a prestigious role to be in. Like many other public health careers, the objective is to look out and care for the community the officer is in. Officers will look for ways and policies that help improve the quality of life of the people that they are working with.

However, though public health officials often work toward one goal, they usually sit at different levels. Some public health officials are at the national level, others are at the local level. Many students will strive to work at the regional or national level hoping to affect more people with their decisions. Yet being a local public health officer might be the best role of all – here’s why.

What is a local public health official?

According to The Division of Public Health Services, “local health officials have a critical role in effective local and regional environmental and public health systems.” One role of local health officials’ rules is to put various health regulations into place and enforce the regions’ rules, even environmental ones. Local public health officials also are the glue between a lot of different organizations. They coordinate between the community leaders, local elected officials and state officials. Local public health officials also work directly with community members as well, allowing them to see the progress that they made on a firsthand basis. They will directly work with this group on several different health issues at a large and small scale and will determine how to handle them in their communities.

The DHHS noted, “in order to effectively implement these essential services, public health system partners must coordinate and collaborate to maximize their capabilities, resources, and strengths. By doing so, we will collectively improve the conditions that result in improved health and engage residents to improve their personal health and the health of their community.”
Lastly, local public health officials act as leaders of their communities, as issues and problems continue to arise in the nation and it’s important for these officials to be completely prepared for any emergency health issue that comes their way. They must come up with solutions to various problems and help people directly in their communities if they are concerned or scared. They wear many hats, from working on implementing free clinics to getting vaccinations for their citizens. They also make sure that there is live-saving medication for their citizens, safe food to eat and even ensure that drivers are using child-safety seats. They will get involved with traffic control, look into environmental safety issues and educate their community members on making healthy choices, such as eating and exercising.

Understanding the system

Of course, it takes more than a local public health officer for the system to work. Several people in different parts of the public health sector have to work together in order to make the community healthier as a whole. If one part of the public health community is inactive or not working with others, the whole system will fail and local public health officers won’t be able to do their jobs.

Like many public health roles, public health officers often have a variety of backgrounds, ranging from epidemiology to health administration and biostatistics. Sometimes officers will hold a degree in more than one area and may also have degrees in medical fields or public safety.

Being a public health officer is a great career to be in if you want every day to be a different experience and you want to work directly within your community. Public health officers get to see their results firsthand, making it a very rewarding career for those who choose it. However, every day is different. Some days they will work on traffic safety, other days they will work on finding viable treatments for preventable diseases such as premature birth, kidney stones and strokes. While the work covers a vast span of fields, the work helps make the community safer and healthier, allowing it to thrive.