[OPINION] Why public health is public wealth
Here's a thought experiment. Imagine going to a high school classroom in the Philippines and surveying the students on what field they want to enter after graduating college. I'll wager you'll get every answer in the book, spanning from real estate and information technology to industrial manufacturing and corporate law. If you listen to enough answers, you may notice one glaring omission: public health.
This issue holds true for the other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand, which I've seen firsthand through my regional health-tech company, mClinica, but the situation is particularly acute here in the Philippines. The term "public health" may even be unfamiliar to many people in the country.
Public health encompasses the efforts to improve the health of a population through everything from a policy (think of the grisly images that now appear on every cigarette package in the Philippines) to an initiative (think of any barangay effort to encourage us to exercise more) or even to awareness (think of any poster you've seen against public smoking or some other health hazard).
As a Filipino who has dedicated her career to public health, this trend scares me. It should move you as well, and so I'd like to share with you why more young people should consider a career in public health, and why it's in our interest as a nation to encourage more of them to. I focus on 3 major reasons.
Create a better Philippines for everyone. Just as an organization must encourage work-life balance among employees to ensure that they are healthy enough to contribute long-term, so too is there a correlation between the physical well-being of a country's citizens and its financial prosperity. As the saying goes, health is wealth, and this is all the more true on the scale of cities and countries. To look at it one way, it's tough to develop intellectual property, innovate new products, or create new businesses if you're starving, ill, or frail. To coin a phrase: public health is public wealth. I see this truism play out in Singapore, where mClinica is headquartered, as the nation has a much higher supply of public health professionals. This focus has no doubt contributed to Singapore's rise as a major commerce hub in Southeast Asia.
As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, it's likewise in the interest of every person in the Philippines to improve our nation's public health if we wish to sustain this trajectory. To do so, we need to encourage more of our bright, young, local talent to devote their energies to this field, and protect what people have time and time again said is the country's most valuable resource: people.
Make a meaningful impact now. Almost every generation has this same desire but it applies to millennials all the more: Young people want to change the world. No matter your course of study or the occupation you want to take upon graduation, you want to make a difference. To change lives. To make an impact. This can be possible in any field, of course, but in those that are already saturated with talent in the Philippines, such as information technology or business process outsourcing, the barrier to create a difference is much higher.
In contrast, the demand for public health professionals in the Philippines is so high that it will be easier to enter into positions where you can make an impact. And what's more, the nature of public health is such that you will not only be able to make an impact, but you will be able to do so at scale. So while other professions may speak of changing the world in the abstract, your contributions stand to benefit thousands, if not millions of people in your communities and cities.
As a personal example, in Indonesia, one in every 4 pharmacists is part of an online platform we created to help their profession, whose network collectively reaches 70 million patients a month. That's just the kind of scale you deal with when you choose public health.
Harness both your talent and your passion. I have heard many others assume that to go into public health you need to have an advanced medical degree. This is simply not true. While public health of course has its share of doctors and pharmacists, there are just as many professionals in the field, if not more so, who come from widely different backgrounds and have different functional expertises.
As an example, there are many statisticians in public health, since biostatistics is one of its core fields. Similarly, you can also be a public health lawyer, a public health engineer, or a public health spokesperson (as I am sort of doing with this article). At mClinica, we employ a broad range of professionals all focused on improving public health regionally, including everyone from operations experts in Indonesia, to digital marketers in Vietnam, and graphic designers in the Philippines. In other words, public health is such an all-encompassing field that if you want to make a difference here, there will always be a way to harness your particular skill set, giving you one of the rare opportunities in life to combine your talent with your passion.
If we can use these angles to do a better job of promoting the allure of a career in public health, I have no doubt that the Philippines will continue its growth in public wealth. – Rappler.com
Phoebe Jane Elizaga is the Health Informatics Lead at mClinica. She is a registered nurse, a graduate of computer science from the University of the Philippines, and a Master of Science in Health Informatics (Medical Informatics Track) student at UP Manila.