The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on mental and physical health worldwide have reinforced the importance of qualified public health educators. When facing problematic issues like variants, disproportionate access to healthcare and the psychological effects of prolonged isolation, the need for public health educators is more important than ever.
Current Public Health Crises
While the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for public health education, it is far from the only health crisis affecting the United States today. Some of the health-related challenges that predate COVID-19 have become more severe since the dawn of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in highlighting other, global, public health issues. The World Health Organization outlines some public health concerns that are ongoing, and the American Public Health Association provides resources and information on some of the top health issues. Some of the threats include:
- Health Services Inequities
Health inequities everywhere often affect people the hardest on the basis of factors like sex, gender, rural residency, ethnicity, disability and more. Vulnerable communities lacking access to health services or health education are more susceptible to viral outbreaks. In addition, lack of insurance and the high cost of healthcare make individuals from these communities less likely to seek medical attention. This can lead to increased viral transmission and overcrowding of limited medical facilities available to our most vulnerable populations.
- Trauma and Violent Crimes
The stress and isolation associated with the pandemic have led to a rise in domestic violence incidents. As a result, many women and children are in harmful situations where they are forced into isolation with the very abusers that inflict trauma upon them. The National Center for Injury and Control provides helpful resources to avoid and address violence related to drug abuse, domestic violence, the elderly, firearm violence and suicide — to name a few.
Some of the lasting effects of said trauma include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Suicidal thoughts
- Social Distancing and Mental Health
Feelings of isolation have been a major challenge during the COVID era. While suicide is the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 29 in general, other community populations are struggling with mental health, too. Elderly populations are most at risk during the pandemic because the isolation necessary to combat the pandemic affects their mental health or limits their access to everything from groceries, prescriptions or regular medical care.
The American Public Health Association lists some recommendations for ways that policymakers, community members, consumers and public health agencies can improve public mental health.
- Food Deserts and Nutrition
The economic crisis and high unemployment rate associated with the pandemic exacerbated the already troubling issue of food insecurity. Thus, not only did at-risk individuals have to deal with shelf scarcity and “food deserts” at the start of the pandemic, but they also faced the genuine possibility of being unable to afford food for their families.
The 2020 WHO/UNICEF/Lancet Commission is working to education children and families on healthy nutrition and food safety worldwide.
Specific Populations Most Vulnerable to Health Concerns
Public health educators frequently work with specific populations considered more vulnerable to health crises due to social factors. Facilitating health education programming among these populations may mitigate some of their risk factors and help improve the overall health of their communities. An AJMC article titled “5 Vulnerable Populations in Healthcare” lists the following populations as those most vulnerable to health concerns:
- Disabled or chronically ill
- Those experiencing homelessness or low-income individuals
- Those in LGBTQ+ communities
- Elderly individuals
- Young children
What Does a Public Health Educator Do?
Public health educators work in various fields and industries such as schools, non-profit organizations, corporations, healthcare facilities and government offices. The primary focus of this role is educating communities on methods for maintaining their overall health and safety. According to the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, public health educators also perform the following duties:
- Plan and implement health education
- Conduct health-related research
- Lead health education and promotion programs
- Advocate for public health
Strong Professional Outlook for Public Health Educators
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the demand for public health educators is expected to increase 13% over the next decade, which equates to roughly 17,000 new jobs by the year 2029. In addition to becoming crucial professionals in a growth industry, earning an advanced degree in public health education can easily open doors to leadership positions and increased earning potential. Here are some exciting, well-paying leadership opportunities, and their average yearly salaries, that are perfect for graduates with the necessary academic experience.
- Health Program Manager ($69,937)
- Medical and Health Services Manager ($104,280)
- Healthcare Marketing or Media Director ($73,729)
Concerns over public health are unlikely to abate anytime soon. To maintain the safety of communities, schools and vulnerable populations, qualified public health educators will need to advocate for behaviors that help ensure a healthy future for everyone. Prospective students can gain the experience and training they need through the Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Public Health Education program at Southern Oregon University.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers
Medical Health and Services Managers