Public Health Medicine as a profession – Perspectives of Registrar

Being a registrar in the Discipline of Public Health Medicine has offered me the opportunity to work in an exciting and constantly evolving multidisciplinary environment. This often requires working in teams consisting of individuals from diverse backgrounds such as non-governmental organisations, local government, district, provincial and national Departments of Health, and academic institutions.

This constant engagement with others has taught me not only to view health problems from different perspectives, but also to use a multi-layered approach when developing solutions. There is a constant process of critical analysis and reflection to not accept everything at face value, and to understand why and how disparities in health have evolved and are maintained.  This is in keeping with the ethos of Public Health – to make a difference on a population level, rather than to focus on individual patients.

Public Health Medicine registrars have a wide ranging scope of practice – in dealing with  immediate concerns such as analysis of outbreaks, to longer term activities such as health promotion, disease prevention, surveillance, monitoring and evaluation, advising on policy, and being involved in various research activities.

An example of a Public Health activity I was involved in, was a project that successfully demonstrated the high uptake of a Human Papilloma Virus vaccine among schoolgirls, in KwaZulu-Natal (1).This project involved collaborating with stakeholders from two universities, a multinational vaccine company, and representatives from provincial and district Departments of Health and Education. A vital part of the process was building partnerships with school health teams, principals and educators, local community leaders, parents and school learners. 

My learning during this project involved working as part of a team, developing project management skills, managing deadlines, engaging with community members, and publishing  a paper on the findings. To date, the most rewarding aspect is that the National Department of Health has announced plans to implement vaccination for school learners.

In conclusion, Public Health Medicine as a profession would appeal to anyone wanting to work in a creative and challenging environment, and willing to think outside the box. While it has its challenges, it is definitely exciting and fulfilling. I highly recommend it.

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