Winter 2009 Stories
A Healthier Enviroment for Public Health
By Mat Slobodkin
Dr. Nancy Anderson wants to make public health…well, public. “There are things that every adult in our society should understand about public health,” says the director of Medicaid pre-natal care programs for Washington state and newly-hired Evening and Weekend Studies (EWS) faculty member.
Rising focus on health care issues by consumers, health care professionals and policy makers led Evergreen’s EWS to strengthen its public health curriculum by creating a new permanent half-time faculty position in public health. Anderson’s hire beefs up the presence of public health in the EWS curriculum, giving students interested in the field more options.
“Public health fits with Evergreen’s general goals. It is really attractive because it compliments straight health science in that it’s interdisciplinary and can push into policy realms,” says Allen Olson, dean of Evening and Weekend Studies. “Public health is also easy to work into other areas of study, such as social justice, which we are really concerned with at Evergreen. It’s quite a practical area to study, with the large increase in the number of health science workers in general.”
A former pediatrician, Anderson’s views on public health are grounded in what health care consumers need to know. “I think everyone needs to understand that how healthy you are has a lot more to do with the environment and your behaviors than does your access to health care,” she notes.
Understanding the ins and outs of public health is essential whether one is studying architecture, education or urban planning. “If you’re a teacher, you need to know that the job you do will affect your students’ health,” Anderson says. “If we look at the developed world, the United States isn’t doing so well in terms of infant mortality and life expectancy. Middle class people start to notice when it bites them, and the message is reaching lawmakers. In the past few years, we’ve been able to get more money from the legislature for health care services.”
The struggle is far from over. How to address inequities in access to health care, as well as environmental and behavioral factors, are among the focus of a team-taught, interdisciplinary program Anderson is teaching this year with faculty member Marcella Benson-Quaziena. Called Holism and Our Healthcare System: Personal Wellness, Healthy Communities and Healthy Organizations, the half-time program is accepting new students for winter and spring quarters. Long-time colleagues, Benson-Quaziena and Anderson met in the 1980s at the first national conference on African American women’s health.
“The program will focus on self- and individual health care as we analyze communities and various organizations and populations,” says Benson-Quaziena, who has worked as a social worker and in clinical settings. “Students will examine how to define health and wellness, how to advocate for health equity, how to interact efficiently with the health care system, and how to maintain one’s own health while working for a better health care system.” Mat Slobodkin is a junior who has taken the EWS programs Religion and Society, and Health vs. Wealth. He plans on a focus in journalism.