A few years ago I got my Masters degree in Public Health. When I started my higher education many years prior, public health had not entered my mind. From my days of doctor’s kits with plastic stethoscopes and candy pills, I was focused on spending my career taking care of people and making them better. I was going to be a doctor. Even before I started to apply for college, I was reading books on how to get myself into medical school. I did not doubt my dream at all.
But somewhere in the middle of my freshman year of college, that plan dissolved. Being away from home and experiencing a whole new kind of life, changed many things. My priorities got shifted. My interests expanded. One day, I made a call to my parents and told them that I was switching from my pre-med major to something called Environmental Studies. It was a good day.
And then, almost twenty-five years later, I was sitting in a classroom learning about public health. That was a good day too.
For those of you not too familiar with public health, it is all about the big picture. People in public health work in all different kinds of areas – medicine, government, journalism, academia, ethics. They are the people who inspect restaurants and the responders to flu outbreaks. It is multi-faceted and ever interesting!
On my first day of my first class of my masters program, my professor instructed us that our first assignment was to go home and subscribe to something called the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. He explained that this was a weekly report from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Its content; a summary of goings on in the public health arena. Good student that I am, I subscribed immediately. Oh man! What a treat my MMWR continues to be.
Each Thursday morning, an email pops into my inbox. Many weeks, the content is pretty basic stuff: number of smokers, a group of passengers who got sick on a cruise boat, celebration of Safe Drinking Week. But then, there are weeks when I will open the email and something will catch my eye. Sometimes, I will learn about a disease that I have never heard of before. This week, I learned about Nodding Disease – a cute name for a serious issue for some children in Africa. No one knows what causes this disease that shows up in previously healthy children. The symptoms start out as involuntary head nodding and moves into very serious neurological problems. Public health workers from the United States and all over the world are working to figure it out.
It was in the MMWR that the first cases of a strange immune system disease among gay men in Los Angeles first was published.
Content oftentimes reads as a detective story. A problem was reported and public health investigators went out to figure out what was going on. How cool is that?