Population health – what does that mean again?

My many classes at the University of Michigan School of Public Health have taught me how public health researchers identify and evaluate determinants that influence population health outcomes.  This term population health outcomes is one I’ve seen broadly applied to the problems and issues people experience in their everyday lives, and it’s a term I’ve wholeheartedly adopted as I talk about how I would like to pursue a career that “improves population health outcomes.” But what does this mean to you once you are out of classroom or research lab? What does this look like in a local community? What matters to the people who spend their lives working to help their neighbors live healthy lives? What issues do they see as most important? What are the stories that need to be told to better describe the daily challenges and successes that are glossed over when we talk about good or bad outcomes?

Thanks to the Public Health Action Support Team trip that will take a group of six students down to the Mississippi Delta, I’ll have a chance to see and hear about how people of Clarksdale, Cleveland and Oxford think and talk about health in their own communities. Our team aims to make positive contribution to the work already underway in the Delta by providing training on what population health data is readily available. Through our project, I hope we can serve as conscientious partners to those folks who know the particularities of the local public health environment and who are passionate about the wellbeing of the Delta and its inhabitants. Although our goal is to help expand our partners understanding, I suspect that we will be the ones that walk away with a greater understanding of population health than when we began.

I’m ready to cultivate a refined sense of what we mean when we say population health outcomes, to have a broader perspective on effective public health practice, and to get a taste of what life is like in the Delta. I’ll be checking back in soon with how our PHAST adventure plays out. Mississippi – here we come!

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