CHICAGO, Ill. – Its a buzz word, its hot right now—but, what does it really mean? What does public health actually look like? I was hoping to answer these questions as I arrived in Chicago, ready to work with children and families affected by HIV and AIDS on the north side of the city. I had imagined an environment somewhere in between a scene from ER (complete with someone convulsing on a stretcher), and a slow day in my elementary school nurse’s office, but what I got was quite different. As a pre-med, I had always assumed that public health was removed from the patient, that it was about long term and broad changes, and that actual people suffering from illness and disease got lost in the melee of pamphlets, walks for causes, and mass emails. I was wrong.
True, public health uses different tools than traditional medicine employs, but it operates with the same intensity as medicine, and with the simple objective of making people better. This summer, I have seen public health fill the cracks in a patient’s well being. T provides the extra boost beyond the medication. Although I have aspirations of being a doctor, this summer has taught me that social workers, therapists, and case managers are equally vital in making sure all of the needs of the individual are met. It is as crucial that our patients can afford the bus fare to get to the hospital as it is for a doctor to diagnose them when they arrive.. The results of an HIV lab test mean nothing when you don’t have an apartment, or anyone caring for your children. This revelation—that the multi-faceted approach to care exists and is in practice—has not only surprised me, but elated me as well.
Just as we learn back in Cambridge during the fall, winter, and spring, crossing disciplines and engaging our peers from other fields yields a more holistic and beneficial result in the real world than simply focusing on one area. It is for this reason that when our states, and our country, changes the way we provide healthcare, we must consider the people beyond those wearing white coats. Whether we move towards a single payer system, more socialized physician groups, or a different iteration of systems already in practice across other developed nations, we cannot leave citizens of the lower class with pills and no plan. We must provide ample support to human and social services, and non-profits and local clinics. I have seen adults, children, and infants experience their quality of life improve because professionals of all kinds worked together on their behalf. To care for the whole person, you need the whole team.
Marcel E. Moran '11, a crimson associate editorial editor, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Eliot House.