Some of us, at some point in our lives, discover we don’t see the world quite as well as we should, and we become one of the millions of people who need to wear glasses. We visit the ophthalmologist for a check up. Most of the time, he or she uses a phoroptor, also called a refractor, the device that resembles owl eyes to determine how much correction we need. You know, the device that requires the patient to commit, even when it is really hard to decide. “Which is clearer, one or two?” Glasses sharpen our vision and can even help us make a fashion statement. Once our exam is over, our new lenses are made based on the way we see and don’t see, sometimes engineered to make our near vision clearer and sometimes made to bring things far away into better focus. Some people even need both kinds of correction. There is something wonderful about looking through a brand new pair of eyeglasses. Our limited vision is much less limited. We see the world through “new eyes.”
With the start of a new year, we’d like to invite our community to take a look at the work of public health through “new eyes,” as well. The work can be viewed from multiple perspectives, local, state and federal. It can be viewed through the big landscapes of science, research and data, or through the smallest of vistas like a mom with limited means seeking the support she needs to ensure that her children are healthy. Public health can be neither near-sighted or far-sighted. The mission of public health requires clear and consistent vision to see both near and far, to see entire populations and individual people. It is its wide field of vision that makes public health so important and yet often misunderstood. If public health is seen only with a single lens with a single purpose, we miss all of its many shapes and forms and the nuances of what it means to hold space for things that affect the health and wellness of every person in society. Just about everything that affects the wellbeing of a community is public health, and public health is the work of an entire community.
We thought it would be helpful to share what forms the frame around the wide lens of public health, essentials that give the lenses their structure and durability. Originally released in 1994, the 10 Essential Public Health Services (EPHS) identify how the enormity of what it means to care for the health and wellbeing of all of us is accomplished. The EPHS was revised in 2020, refreshed and ready to guide the mission of public health into the future. Public health needs a nearly limitless, multifocal lens when you consider the breadth of its mission; “to protect and promote the health of all people in all communities.” Those who work in public health see clearly the work at hand, work that “enables optimal health for all.” It is a big task demanding the broadest field of vision. Public health and its 10 Essential Public Health Services acknowledge that there is a common bond between all of us, it sees the world through a lens of shared humanity and it makes clear that when the quality of one life is improved, the quality of every life is improved. The very essence of public health is the interconnected nature of people and the inescapable reality that in order to live as a community, we must care for each other. Public health looks through the lens of equity and inclusion and its vision includes removing barriers from the lives we are connected to, barriers like “poverty, racism, gender discrimination, ableism and other forms of oppression.” At its heart, it is people not just looking at other people, but truly seeing them.
The 10 Essential Public Health Services that serve as the frames for the work are:
- Assess and monitor population health status, factors that influence health, and community needs and assets.
- Investigate, diagnose and address health problems and hazards affecting the population.
- Communicate effectively to inform and educate people about health, factors that influence it and how to improve it.
- Strengthen, support, and mobilize communities and partnerships to improve health.
- Create, champion, and implement policies, plans and laws that impact health.
- Utilize legal and regulatory actions designed to improve and protect the public’s health.
- Assure an effective system that enables equitable access to the individual services and care needed to be healthy.
- Build and support a diverse and skilled public health workforce.
- Improve and innovate public health functions through ongoing evaluation, research and continuous quality improvement.
- Build and maintain a strong organizational infrastructure for public health.
The 10 Essential Public Health Services keep the lens clear. They hold the focus for purpose driven people who work in the service of others. Each is a part of a working mission to create a world where everyone can thrive and flourish. “Assess,” “Investigate,” “Strengthen,” “Support,” “Create,” “Champion”, “Utilize,” “Assure,” “Build,” “Support,” “Improve,” “Innovate,” “Maintain Strength.” These are action words because public health is service in action and they are purpose words that drive the wide array of individuals who work in the field of public health. Scholars, researchers, scientists, data analysts, healthcare professionals, mental health professionals, social service experts, environmentalists, community health workers, emergency responders, health and wellness professionals, educators, policy makers, thinkers and leaders all make up the public health workforce and in each and every aspect of public health, the 10 Essential Public Health Services keep those who serve always striving to do better in the service of others.
Sometimes there is a narrow view of public health, centered on a single aspect, and yet there is so much more to see. The truth is, public health is everything from childhood immunizations to environmental concerns to what Surgeon General Vivek Murthy calls the “epidemic of loneliness.” Anything that affects the public is public health. Anything that affects the health and wellbeing of our neighbors, family and friends is public health. It is an inescapable reality that human beings have always and will always live in community with others. In order to do that in a way that allows every member of a community to thrive, we need those who are dedicated to taking care of everyone. Human beings have a long history of stepping up for each other in hard times. We are good at coming together in a crisis, neighbor helping neighbor. Our survival has depended on that innate quality within all of us. The 10 Essential Public Health Services give those in public health the clearest vision possible to make “neighbor helping neighbor” the focus of why they go to work each and every day.
Our goal with our blog is to open your eyes to the many, many ways that public health works in service to the community we call home, and to the broader society that represents all of us. Unlike the ophthalmologist with the refractor, we’d like you to know that public health is so much more than “one or two” choices in which to see what a flourishing, thriving community looks like. We want you to get to know us because you are why we do what we do. Please visit our blog often as we highlight how and why we honor the 10 Essential Public Health Services.