writers write- a personal and professional- perfesional? update

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet Professor Howard Markel, who is the head of the History of Medicine department here at the University of Michigan and a somewhat high profile author. Needless to say I was mildly starstruck and probably talked too much. I had contacted him because all of his work is something I aspire to do someday, I want to do some sort of independent study or work with one of his projects, and also to get his advice about starting the school of public health blog/student organization in the fall.

In response to my requests, he’s going to try and see if I can help with the web encyclopedia  about the American Flu Epidemic of 1918 that he started. He gave me sound advice about starting the blog/club (don’t publish everything, obviously, and get some money), sound advice about writing and a copy of one of his books.

His advice about writing was “I hate saying this, because I know I hated hearing it when I was younger, but read and write a lot. Writers write. Read other authors, see what works what doesn’t. Find your voice and write for an audience. It’s fun writing for yourself, but writers write for other people. I’ve written for an audience of 3, and I’ve written for an audience of 3 million- and writing for 3 million is a lot more fun”

I have to agree that writing for an audience is more fun. Will I ever write for 3 million people? Who knows. I mean I write for (technically) 930 or so of you (if any of you actually read my original posts, thank you hello, you’re beautiful) and I enjoy it thoroughly.

But he’s right. Writers write. And I have put off a lot of my personal writing because A. I’ve been busy but also B. because I have worried too much about the exactly right timing and perfection so much that I haven’t been getting any of my thoughts down when they occur to me or finished projects and gotten them out there despite them not being “just right”

If I’m going to be a writer I gotta just kick things out that are as good as I can make them. I can only get better through practice.

opinion: public health needs an image change and more political oomph

I am not yet a full fledged Public Health Professional, but I am a third of the way through becoming one, so I can share the impression I have gotten about our field’s image so far- we’re a little bit confused. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, because we still do amazing work and will continue to be a groundbreaking and essential field. No the confusion comes from our, for lack of a better term, “brand name”- what does Public Health mean now, here in the 21st Century? I think most all of the faculty and students here at SPH could give you our thoughts on this question, but the answers would not all be the same. That is also perfectly ok- public health means different things to us, it means different things based on the work we currently do and  what brought us to SPH in the first place. The problem is that when we try to talk about public health to the outside world, different definitions and  goals can lead to dysfunction.

Most of the time when I describe public health to individuals outside of the community, I give  a simplified description of  epidemiology, even though that’s not even my program, because that definition is easiest for laypeople  to understand and the area of public health that has been most visible to America for the past 50-100 years. And I usually feel bad about it, because it does a disservice to Epidemiology, a complex and fascinating field,  and my wonderful program Health Behavior and Health Education,and it does a disservice to everyone else in Public Health.

Public health is much broader than the spread of disease only, and quite honestly, epidemiology as everyone has known it is becoming less of a pressing focus in the United States. Sure we still have whooping cough, measles and other contagious illness that are essential to focus on, but more than anything, Americans today suffer from chronic conditions that are not contagious. So other facets of the Public Health field have to step up. We have to show everyone its importance and redefine public health in America in the process. A tall order.

On the one hand, we need the recognition, understanding and respect of our new image by of the wider community, but more crucially, we need funding. It seems callous to point out money in the face of the good and worthy work that we do, but if we don’t get funding we don’t get things done. End of story.

From what I gather, the solution to these problems is to A. have an agreed upon definition of public health that represents our goals and our multifaceted discipline B. evaluate evaluate evaluate our programs and practices to see if they really are worth the money being spent on them and C. try to get more political. I know that there are plenty of great people working in the nation’s capital and elsewhere to get public health the recognition it needs, but it’s not making as much of a splash as it could be, and we certainly don’t have name recognition of any champions of public health. As far as I can see the best name recognition we currently have is the CDC, and even they don’t have the same amount of clout as say, the Pentagon or the FTC. (digressing into my political views, it’s unsurprising to me that Americans pay more attention to war and money than health)

I plan on using at least a small portion of my career and energies into talking the ears off of anyone who expresses interest in public health and its potential image change and its need for a greater spotlight and influence. We have a lot to give, we just need the push to get us there.

internship season

Student Life

In the crazy wrap up of the semester, it’s been difficult to work on all of my online writing projects, but now that it’s summer I will have more time- in theory. Because  summer and for SPH students transitioning into second year, that means it’s internship season. We are all dispersed to new locations across Michigan, the United States and across the globe to see what public health looks like in action. It’s incredibly exciting and I cannot wait to see the wonderful work my classmates and colleagues will accomplish and learn this summer. It will be a summer of growth and challenge, that’s for certain.

My internship is with the University of Michigan’s MHealthy- a branch of their human resources department devoted to Health and Wellness of employees of the university. I am very excited to begin my work on projects and interventions, specifically in the Stress Management and…

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