Welcome to Public Health!

charles-zhouAs public health programs around the country begin this week, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to everyone entering the field of public health–my future classmates here at the University of Michigan as well as friends at schools of public health around the country and around the world. You’ve made a great decision and you’re going to help solve some of our toughest problems. As some wise person probably once said, there is no nobler cause than service to humanity, which in my opinion is the core of public health.

Now, I realize that I’m maybe one of the least qualified people to speak on behalf of all of public health as a student halfway done with his masters degree. However, you can (and do) learn a lot in a year. Here are a few of the big lessons I’ve picked up:

1. Our work is mostly unseen and unappreciated…until something big happens.

As of 2012, the United States spends 32 times as much money on medical costs as it did on public health (per person). Why? Because when we do our jobs, people stay healthy (or become more so). We’re fortunate to live in a world where this is increasingly the norm, where being healthy is taken for granted. That also means less attention to public health efforts and consequently less funding. We’re mostly invisible until something beyond our control happens, such as the recent Toledo water crisis or recent Ebola outbreak–then it’s our turn to shine.

2. You learn to work with everyone else really quickly.

As an Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) student, my classes focus on various aspects of environmental health. However, there is absolutely no avoiding the fact that policy and behavior/education impact health just as much as the environment does, nor can anyone claim that they won’t apply methods from epidemiology or biostatistics in their work. And the School of Public Health is just one of 19 schools and colleges at the University of Michigan. Success in public health requires you to look at the world from many different perspectives, and a great way to get some of these perspectives is by working with people with a different lens than you.

3. Public health people know how to balance work and fun, and they’re some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

With the exception of the awesome ecologists I used to work with, you’d have a hard time finding a community that is more welcoming, supportive, hard-working, and fun than your SPH family, and the big worldwide public health family. Because in the end, all of us want the same thing: a healthier world for everyone to live in.

Again, welcome, and I look forward to working with you!

To any new (or old) University of Michigan SPH students reading this: please stop me and say hi when you see me around campus, or email me at chzhou[at]umich.edu! I’d love to meet all of you and I’d be happy to chat. If you get lost, want suggestions for places to eat/things to do around Ann Arbor, or have any questions in general, I’d be happy to help–I was a university tour guide for 3 years as an undergraduate.

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