Proven Strategies and Successful Public Health Programs
If you’ve ever heard the saying about how “a rising tide lifts all boats,” public health initiatives are a perfect real-life example of the phrase in action. When communities have access to healthcare, knowledge of healthy living habits, and public policy that safeguards them from preventable health risks, it often leads to a healthier, more prosperous population.
Public health professionals serve our society in countless ways, from influencing health policy to coordinating community health assessments, pop-up clinics, and health education programs. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most impactful methods current and future professionals can use to promote greater public health in their local—and global—communities.
Want to learn more about what it takes to achieve a career in public health? Check out our in-depth guides on how to become a public health consultant, or how to become a public health program manager.
1. Community Health Assessment
The key to creating effective public health programs or policies is understanding the current state of community health in a given area. Public health professionals collect and analyze community health data to determine demographics, identify issues disproportionately affecting the community, and understand the state of the local health infrastructure. These assessments are critical to help health organizations plan out their initiatives and how to best allocate their often limited resources.
Community health assessments are an industry-standard practice used before implementing or improving any public health program—whether it’s at the local, regional, national, or even international level. CHAs are complex and highly data-driven, and almost always involve collaboration between multiple stakeholders, including residents, policymakers, researchers, and public health agencies.
2. Health Education Programs
Health literacy is an occasionally overlooked element of a healthy population. When people understand how their bodies work, how to take care of themselves—and most importantly, how to access the care they need—it all adds up to better public health. Research has shown limited health literacy to be associated with increased health risks, worse health outcomes, and related issues like increased costs of care.
Health education programs cover a multitude of topics, and may be focused on teaching people about health or injury risks, encouraging healthy living habits, or raising awareness about available health resources. The most successful healthcare programs make complicated health topics accessible and easy to understand for people with non-medical backgrounds, and are catered to the unique needs of the community they serve.
Some of the most successful large-scale health education programs include the CDC’s HIV-prevention efforts, the breast-cancer awareness movement, and various anti-tobacco campaigns over the past few decades. At the regional or local level, health education programs cover a multitude of topics—from reproductive health to exercise, nutrition, and mental health awareness.
3. Vaccination Drives
Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools available in modern-day medicine to prevent the spread of diseases that can have life-altering (or even fatal) consequences. Vaccination drives ensure communities receive adequate access to vaccines that are important for healthy development in children, and for reducing preventable risks in adults of all ages. Successful vaccination drives require careful planning to coordinate health infrastructure, plus clear and transparent public communication to dispel common myths and encourage trust.
The effort to eradicate polio is one of the most successful examples of a vaccination drive that greatly benefitted overall public health. Until the mid 1950s, polio was one of the most serious conditions on the planet—it could be fatal to children, and those who survived often had to live with severe disabilities. Vaccines also played an essential role in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic by preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with too many critically ill patients to treat.
4. Accessible Healthcare Services
Lack of access to care is one of the most well-known causes of health inequity, and accessible healthcare services are designed to improve availability of care in the communities that need it most. Health inequities have many root causes, from income disparities and transportation issues to healthcare avoidance among historically disadvantaged groups.
Accessible healthcare services seek to reduce or eliminate these barriers to care, by identifying the access gaps unique to each community and implementing targeted solutions to address them. These community-focused healthcare programs can take multiple forms, including free community health centers, mobile health clinics, pop-up vision exams, harm reduction services, and many others.
5. Collaborative Partnerships
The most impactful public health initiatives depend on collaboration between multiple stakeholders like healthcare networks, public health authorities, and local community organizations. Bringing together various parties in pursuit of a common goal helps maximize a community’s health resources, prevent duplication of efforts, and continue long-term progress toward addressing complex issues.
The best health partnerships are built upon trusting relationships and shared interests, and guided by a clear strategy and action plan. Public health professionals interested in facilitating these partnerships can make connections by reaching out to community organizations with similar goals, attending volunteer or fundraising events, and networking with healthcare providers.
6. Mental Health Awareness
Mental health awareness has come a long way in recent years, but there’s still more progress to make—and public health professionals are at the forefront of those efforts. According to Mental Health America, nearly one in five U.S. adults are currently affected by mental illness, and nearly half of all Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives.
Many mental health initiatives are developed to raise awareness of mental health conditions, let people know where they can get help, and reduce stigmas that still persist around mental illness. Programs ranging from national PSA campaigns to local crisis-response teams make a difference in countless people’s lives, and empower those who are struggling to seek the help they need.
One of the most well-known examples of a successful awareness campaign is the 9-8-8 emergency number that anyone can text or call during a mental health crisis. However, local programs and community health centers that provide mental health services are just as important. Because mental health issues are so prevalent, it takes a multifaceted approach to address this crucial aspect of public health and prevent people from falling through the cracks.
7. Environmental Health Initiatives
The places where people live and work can have a major impact on public health. Environmental health encompasses things many people take for granted—like clean air and drinking water, or food and household items that are safe from hazardous materials.
Environmental pollutants have been linked to multiple health issues like heart disease, respiratory problems, and even some types of cancer.
In communities that are exposed to health risks due to air pollution, dated infrastructure, or other factors, environmental health initiatives work to reduce or eliminate preventable health risks, which tend to disproportionately affect lower-income communities. Environmental health initiatives range from carpooling programs and food-safety regulations to community cleanup efforts, and naturally extend into policymaking designed to protect the public.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their Superfund program is one of the best-known examples of an environmental health initiative to clean up areas contaminated with hazardous materials. However, many policies and programs also promote environmental health at the local level, whether it’s through awareness campaigns, proper disposal of hazardous materials, or initiatives to mitigate asbestos or lead-based paint in older buildings.
8. Nutrition and Healthy Eating
The food we use to fuel our bodies has a monumental impact on our overall health. According to the CDC, 9 out of 10 Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables and consume too much sodium. Poor nutrition has been linked to health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and multiple types of cancer. Nutrition education programs help people build sustainable eating habits for long-term health, leading to healthier individuals and communities.
Lack of access to healthy, nutritious food is also one of the root causes of health inequity among disadvantaged communities. Public health programs that improve access to wholesome foods can help address “food deserts”—locations where nearby food options are primarily high-calorie, low-nutrition foods. Partnerships with local food suppliers have proven successful in alleviating food insecurity for many families, and in increasing access to the balanced meals people need to stay healthy.
9. Emergency Preparedness
Whether due to natural disasters, acts of terror, or large-scale accidents, emergencies can strike without warning at any time. Emergency preparedness falls within the purview of public health, because it can massively affect outcomes in the aftermath of an emergency. Educating the public on general preparedness—and effectively communicating instructions or evacuation orders in the event of an emergency—helps to minimize injuries, loss of life, and property damage.
Public health professionals throughout the country make essential contributions to emergency preparedness efforts at every level of government. Establishing comprehensive response plans and coordinating resources in advance of a crisis helps avoid chaos and confusion, and ensures communities are able to help the people most severely affected by the situation. Organized community drills are also effective in ensuring everybody knows what to do and where to go, should the unexpected happen.
In addition to disaster response plans, communities can prepare for emergencies with proactive initiatives like earthquake-resistant building designs or early-warning systems for natural disasters. Japanese cities like Kyoto and Hamamatsu are renowned for their preparedness efforts, following devastating earthquakes that had deadly consequences for local citizens.
10. Technology and Telehealth
Health technology and telemedicine have the potential to eliminate barriers to healthcare in many communities, especially rural or low-income areas that often have fewer available healthcare providers. When people are easily able to get in touch with a qualified provider without having to travel or take time away from their responsibilities, they’re able to ask questions, discuss symptoms, and take the proper steps toward addressing health concerns.
Public health programs that provide telehealth to communities with limited health access deliver much-needed care to people, regardless of location or mobility limitations. Telehealth initiatives have been successfully implemented in several large healthcare networks, government organizations like the VA, and even in some school districts throughout the country. Remote healthcare is likely to become increasingly commonplace in community health initiatives, and public health professionals will be vital in ensuring emerging health technologies are utilized to their fullest potential.
Advance Your Public Health Career at Brookline College
Just like the people they serve, public health programs come in many shapes and sizes, with a variety of short- and long-term goals. No matter their scale or specific focus, any policy or initiative that prioritizes healthier communities involves numerous public health professionals working toward a healthier future for all of us.
If you want to make the maximum impact in your public health career, completing a master’s program enriches your knowledge of the many diverse, interconnected aspects of public health, and prepares you with the skills to plan and lead large-scale health initiatives.
The Master of Public Health degree program at Brookline College makes it possible to earn your master’s degree in just over a year, with a convenient online curriculum that lets you complete your coursework on your own schedule. You’ll learn from experienced public health professionals, and have access to a dedicated student services team to support you as you continue your academic journey.
Curious about the different directions you could take your public health career after completing a master’s program? Explore our list of the 12 highest-paying public health jobs.