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The Future of the Public’s Health in the 21st Century
research efforts are expanding, and certificate programs and distance-learning programs aimed at providing lifelong learning to practicing public health workers have grown. Much more can be achieved, but these improvements are dependent on a critical analysis of the functions of academia, an examination of academia’s potential contributions to the public health system, and a discussion of recommendations made to enhance academia’s capacity to make these contributions.
Academia performs three important functions within the public health system. These are to (1) educate and train public health workers; (2) conduct basic and applied research in disciplines pertinent to public health; and (3) engage in community, public, and professional service. Of course, academia is not the only institution that provides education, research, and service. Federal, state, and local public health agencies, for example, provide training to public health workers. Public health agencies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conduct community-based research. Federal and state health agencies collect and disseminate valuable, credible information and statistics for the nation through vehicles such as the National Health Interview Survey, the Vital Statistics system, and the publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The Public Health Faculty/Agency Forum, convened by CDC and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), illustrates one way in which nonacademic institutions convene and foster cooperation and coordination between academia and public health agencies in support of community health.
Although numerous federal, state, and local agencies make important contributions through education and training, information dissemination, collaborative activities, and research, these functions are central to the mission of academia. These functions are not, however, mutually exclusive. For example, service learning (defined as a method by which students learn through active participation in organized service experiences that meet actual community needs [Rhoads and Howard, 1998]) can be classified under the education and training function as well as the service function. Community-based participatory research is another example. Although it is clearly classified under the research function of academia, this approach to research is also a component of the service function because it is conducted in a collaborative fashion with the community and addresses problems identified as important by the community.
The emphasis of this chapter is on how academia fulfills its responsibilities for assuring the health of the public through education (and training), research, and service. For the purposes of this discussion, “academia” refers to all units within community and 4-year colleges and universities that contribute to assuring the health of the population.