The mission of public health is to fulfill society’s interest in assuring conditions in which people can be healthy.
Public health is “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.” (1920, C.E.A. Winslow) It is concerned with threats to the overall health of a community based on population health analysis. A population can be as small as a handful of people or as large as all the inhabitants of several continents (for instance, in the case of a pandemic).
Public health is typically divided into epidemiology, biostatistics and health services. Important subfields include nursing, environmental, social, behavioral and occupational health.
There are two characteristics of public health that differ from medicine:
- The focus of public health is on preventive rather than curative aspects of health
- The target audience for public health is on the population as a whole rather than on individual health issues (specific disease or injury)
The goal of public health is to improve lives by promoting the health of the population through organized community efforts. Examples of these efforts include: inspecting restaurants to reduce the probability of food borne illnesses and assuring that children are immunized in sufficient numbers to protect both themselves and others in the community.
Boards of Health share a responsibility with their local health departments to implement the Three Core Functions and the Ten Essential Services, the guiding principles of public health.