The magazine of the UW School of Public Health

From the Editor

What’s New in Public Health?

Susan Allan

In recent public health meetings and conferences, I have heard people refer to “the new public health.” This is an intriguing statement, because at first glance, it isn’t obvious that much is new about public health. For most public health practitioners, the challenges they face aren’t that different from 10 years ago, or even 50 years ago. Except for the use of computers, most of the tools are substantially the same. Yet clearly something important is going on that is reflected in the changing conversations about public health. This edition of Northwest Public Health explores some of the emerging strategies, ideas and tools that are moving us to a new era in public health.

It is important to acknowledge that the discussions and activities presented in this edition are occurring against a background of difficult financial circumstances for most of the state, local and tribal health departments in our region and across the country. It is all the more striking that innovations presented in this edition are going on even as health departments struggle with cuts in programs and the loss of experienced staff. A few (unusually optimistic?) people have even suggested that the current budget crisis is helping stimulate fresh thinking about what public health priorities really should be.

Our last issue, on climate change, presented many ways in which public health is stretching outside its usual program boundaries, influencing areas where other professions have the primary role. This issue looks at new tools and new partners that move us into a new era.

In this issue, Guest Editor Pat Libbey launches the discussion of “the new public health” by advocating nothing less than major change in the culture of public health—that practitioners become more visible, more assertive, and more critically analytic about the value and outcomes of public health activities.

Discussions about “the new public health” always mention the importance of partnerships, so for this issue we include three “viewpoint” pieces that describe opportunities for innovation. Thomas Aschenbrener, President of the Northwest Health Foundation, proposes partnerships with philanthropic organizations. State Representative Tina Kotek of Oregon gives her perspective on the role of “population health services” in health care reform. And I offer a brief overview of emerging activities promoting evidence-based public health practice.

In this issue we take a look at how public health practitioners are using social networking tools to reach new audiences. We then (appropriately!) continue this discussion online. The peer-reviewed articles in this issue fall into several broad themes:

  • An increased emphasis on evaluation, using economic analysis of costs and benefits, with an example of a tobacco cessation program in Idaho
  • New or expanded partnerships, with examples from Alaska and Washington
  • Taking a fresh look at the environment not just to mitigate hazards (toxic exposures and injuries) but also as a way to promote good health, with examples of Health Impact Assessments from Alaska, Oregon, and Washington
  • Rethinking our approaches to traditional problems, such as emergency communication, workforce retention, and public health education.

On the inside back cover, we launch a new way for you to share ideas. We envision the print journal as a springboard for an expanded discussion among the public health communities in our six states. Later this fall, we plan to add an Internet forum to the journal’s Web site. We welcome your ideas for better ways to bring you into the discussion.

Susan Allan, Editor-in-Chief
Director, Northwest Center for Public Health Practice
UW School of Public Health