I am writing this message in mid-November.
The presidential campaign and election outcome has left many of us in the public health community saddened, concerned, angry, and questioning what the future holds. If public health is collective action "to advance societal and environmental conditions that allow all members of society to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health" as reflected in our mission statement, how best to move forward? I would not deign to answer this question for others, but would suggest that an active citizenry and an informed one will be needed to critique and perhaps protest some of the changes that are likely to be proposed by the incoming administration.
I spent the week before the election in Denver at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA), as I do every year. Reconnecting with former students, and seeing them flourish as public health professionals, is always a particular highlight. Along with many alumni of our program in health communication and other members of the Public Health Education and Health Promotion Section, I was thrilled to honor Professor Tim Edgar, as he received the Everett Rogers Award, given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to public health communication. We are privileged to have him join our faculty. (See page 1 article)
Nowhere is the rich fabric of public health in greater evidence than at APHA. The sheer number and range of topics can be immobilizing. Prison health, the opiate epidemic, accountable care organizations, aging, reproductive health, physical activity, climate change, structural racism, and so much more – that is the fabric's warp. And the thousands of attendees are its weft: diversity abounds along dimensions of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability status. "Creating the Healthiest Nation: Ensuring the Right to Health," the theme of the APHA meeting, takes on new meaning given the early discussions of how and to what extent the Affordable Care Act may be dismantled, and to anticipated assaults on women's reproductive rights.
As confirming as it is to be among colleagues who largely share one's views, I do believe one of many "lessons learned' from this election is the consequence of not interacting with those who do not. One of the luxuries afforded by our information age is the ability to curate the news and opinions one reads or hears. Social media can assist in this by framing issues around group think, with vitriol delivered to dissenters. Greater openness across the deep divides in evidence during the recent campaign would be one welcome result.
Certainly, the work of public health does not depend upon who occupies the White House. Yet, I would argue the need for our work, as practitioners of public health, has never been more evident. APHA's Public Health Action campaign, PHACT, is but one of myriad ways to get involved. Choose your organization and choose your stance – whatever you elect to do, I hope you will do something.
Aviva Must, PhD
Dean, Public Health and Professional Degree Programs