Even professionals in the field struggle to define public health precisely. It has been called the "invisible profession" because people don't hear much about it until a disaster occurs. Then, public health experts are in the spotlight, calling on their understanding of the way the physical and social worlds work to save lives. Public health professionals are part of an ongoing system that protects people from diseases and encourages them to change harmful behaviors. Public health has been increasingly concerned with targeted prevention programs aimed at specific problems that disproportionately affect minority and economically disadvantaged groups. With its focus on health promotion and disease prevention, public health provides a foundation for our health care system that ultimately means lower health care costs.
The base of knowledge for public health comes from a variety of disciplines, ranging from social sciences to biological sciences and business, brought together by a commitment to improve the public's health. While physicians treat the ills of individuals, public health professionals attack society's health problems--domestic violence, teen smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, hazardous waste and dangerous workplaces. Public health experts examine such questions as, Who gets certain diseases and why? Can a common element be changed to prevent an illness among an entire population? Does that element require a change in behavior; technology, or the health care delivery system? How can we motivate individuals to change their behavior? Can the new technology be developed? How should the health care delivery system be changed to improve access and treatment? Often, answering such questions requires stepping into the political arena where experts and advocates can develop policies and programs that give everyone an opportunity to lead a healthy life.
The USF College of Public Health, the first such school in the state of Florida, is improving the quality of health services by educating health professionals, conducting research and distributing information. The college provides support in all forms to public agencies and private corporations that have an interest in health promotion and disease prevention. USF public health faculty have been called upon to examine water contaminants, study risk factors for heart disease, evaluate risk of injury to assembly line workers, promote good eating habits and prenatal care, evaluate health programs and determine the health care needs of communities. The expertise found in the college is eclipsed only by the commitment to improve public health, a commitment that puts faculty members, students and graduates at the center of their communities, leading coalitions, conducting research and providing information that can make good health a reality for everyone.