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Upon completion of the chapter and exercises, the student pharmacist will be able to

  1. Define public health.

  2. Identify areas in public health where pharmacists can take an active role.

  3. Identify partners for pharmacists in order to promote the health of their communities.

  4. Describe populations to be targeted by pharmacists.

  5. Identify public health content in your curriculum.

Pharmacists have an important role to play in the public's health but often think of their activities in the narrower framework of traditional pharmacy practice. This chapter provides background and tools for reflection on a broader role of pharmacy in public health for you to use as you progress through your education, practice experiences, and professional and community life.

An Internet search for a definition of public health results in a large number of returns. In general, a definition of public health includes such terms as protecting and improving the health of a community, disease prevention, health education, control of communicable diseases, application of sanitary measures, and monitoring of environmental hazards. The Association of Schools of Public Health's (ASPH)1 web site provides a comprehensive definition of public health. Overall, public health professionals are concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country. Public health professionals work to prevent problems from happening or reoccurring through implementing educational programs, developing policies, administering services, and conducting research, in contrast to clinical professionals, such as physicians and nurses, and pharmacists who focus primarily on treating individuals after they become sick or injured. Public health practitioners are concerned with limiting health disparities and a large part of public health practice is the fight for health-care equity, quality, and accessibility. It seems clear to many in the profession, based on the definition of public health, that all pharmacists are now in a position to support, and add to, the role that public health pharmacists have been engaged in for many years.

The study of public health is highly varied and encompasses many academic disciplines and is comprised of the following core areas:

  • Environmental Health
  • Biostatistics
  • Behavioral Science/Health Education
  • Epidemiology
  • Health Services Administration/Management
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Nutrition
  • International/Global Health
  • Public Health Laboratory Practice
  • Public Health Policy
  • Public Health Practice

The following sections provide an introduction to each of the areas with respect to what topics are relevant, and the impact of public health professionals in that area.

Environmental Health

"The air we breathe; the water we drink; the complex interactions between human genetics and our surroundings."1

Constructed and natural environments influence our health, and public health professionals ask how we reduce these risk factors? Environmental risk factors are associated with causing diseases such as asthma, cancer, and food poisoning. Chemistry, toxicology, and engineering specialists have combined their expertise to look for answers ...

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