What is public health? Most people think it is related to medicine and going to the doctor when you are sick, but that’s not what public health means.
Like making sure there is clean drinking water, healthy foods in restaurants, pedestrian and traffic safety and behavioral changes like getting people to quit smoking, to exercise, to use alcohol in moderation, to name just a few.
“It’s a very large field and it really focuses on prevention,” said Maddock. “How do we keep populations healthy instead of how do you keep individuals healthy, which is your traditional medical side of the field.”
UH Mānoa had a School of Public Health for 31 years but because of budget constraints in the late 1990s, the school was merged with the John A. School of Medicine, lost its accreditation and was turned into the Office of Public Health Studies. That program was accredited in 2007, but still does not offer the same number of courses, degrees and research opportunities. Now UH is in the process of reestablishing the school by 2015 and will call it the School of Global and Community Health.
“We will be a fully accredited school of public health once again here in Hawaiʻi,” said Maddock. “Right now we are about 77 percent there with many of the programs we used to offer in the school of public health.”
The plan is to add two more masters degrees required to be considered a school of public health, along with an indigenous health masters degree, the first ever in the world, and an undergraduate program.
“So hopefully, if the school opens, then we can take more students and train more local public health practitioners,” said Ivan Chik, a UH Mānoa public health student.
“If we have people who are committed to the communities here and who have ties here, we will be able to really improve our health system overall,” agreed fellow UH Mānoa public health student, Tasha Tydingco.
This all comes in the nick of time. A recent study showed that most of the 3,000 plus employees at the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health are in their mid 50s and expected to retire in the next five to 10 years.
“If our program doesn’t train the next generation of the workforce, we are going to have major gaps,” said Maddock. “We are seeing this nationwide, that they are major shortages in the public health workforce that need to be addressed before we don’t have qualified people to take the jobs.”