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Sure cure

education Updated: Dec 20, 2011 15:04 IST

The lowdown
The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” While medical professionals work to make this a reality at the individual level by providing medical care to patients, public health professionals work for the health of the population. Unlike medical professionals, public health workers typically do not see patients or deliver clinical services. Rather, the public health profession is a curious mix of people trained in different disciplines - social scientists,economists, medical and health professionals, managers, nutritionists, political scientists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, public policy experts, natural scientists, historians, anthropologists, social workers – with an aim to improve population health

Clockwork
Public health professionals’ workdays can vary widely, depending on their qualifications/specialisations and their work setting — a hospital, an international agency, such as the WHO, or an NGO. A public health worker performs multiple activities, an example:
9am: Check reports of health programmes
10am: Assess the progress of the programme
11am: Call/discuss report with concerned medical officer and prepare for field visits
1.30pm: Lunch
3pm: Attend meetings with senior public health professionals and visit the programme site
7pm: Leave for home

The payoff
Typically starting salaries for those engaged in program implementation range from Rs 10,000 to Rs 40,000 a month. Starting salaries for those engaged in research may range between Rs 15,000 to Rs 1 lakh a month. In general, those who work for international agencies tend to earn at the higher end of the salary scale

Skills/Traits
The skill requirement varies from one profile to another. For example, quantitative and analytical skills for a biostatistician, and strong language and creative skills for a communication specialist. But generally, the requirements are:
* Managerial acumen
* Project management skills
* Decision-making ability
* Social commitment

Getting there
People from a variety of backgrounds end up as public health professionals. So in many ways, there is no single path or requirement to become a public health professional, except for an interest in population health and the well being of other human beings. There are, however, specialised courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, that training people specifically in public health. The most common of these is the master’s in public health (MPH) in which one can focus on the specific areas of interest

Institutes and URLs
* Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi (www.phfi.org)
* Indian Institute of Public Health Gurgaon, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad and Shillong
www.phfi.org
* National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, New Delhi
www.nihfw.org
* Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvanthapuram
www.sctimst.ac.in
* All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Kolkata
www.aiihph.gov.in
* Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh
http://pgimer.nic.in
* BITS Pilani
www.bits-pilani.ac.in
* Christian Medical College, Vellore
www.cmch-vellore.edu

Pros and cons
* Your efforts make a difference to a lot of lives — a source of great satisfaction
* Most jobs, at present, are in the government sector and in NGOs
* The concept of public health is relatively new in India
* Work may involve travel and you may be posted in rural or remote areas

Healthcare is an important sector, particularly in India. Public health professionals’ efforts can make a difference to a lot of lives and also be a source of great satisfaction KD Rao, head, health economics and financing, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi