Alabama’s public health professionals are on the front line of the state’s battle against a multitude of public health challenges spanning a diverse range of issues from mental health to bioterrorism. Besides countering immediate threats, these professionals often take to the offensive through educational campaigns that raise awareness about important public health issues. For example, recently the Alabama Hospital Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, and the Alabama Department of Public Health sponsored a 10-week state-wide Scale Back Alabama campaign to promote healthy eating and exercise, and to raise public awareness about local outdoor activities.
As this collaboration demonstrates, public health initiatives must involve all stakeholders within the community. As such, public health professionals that contribute to creating a healthier Alabama can be found throughout the state in such places as the Samaritan Counseling Center in Montgomery and the American Drug Rehab Center in Mobile. Government agencies and NGOs alike spearhead educational campaigns and provide treatment within their area of specialty ranging from addiction counseling and smoking cessation to disease prevention and inoculation. Health departments organized at the county level focus on issues affecting their communities, but also often coordinate a combined effort to tackle Alabama’s most serious public health issues.
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Alabama’s overall commitment to bettering public health is backed up in dollars. Recently the state applied for and received a federal grant to fund public health programs like the Scale Back Alabama program. Programs that received funding include:
- Healthy communities, tobacco control, diabetes prevention, and behavioral health programs – $766,182
- Initiatives to fight infectious diseases, especially those that can be prevented with a vaccine – $150,000
- Initiatives to prevent infectious diseases – $487,133
- Programs that promote childhood vaccinations and immunizations – $947,635
- Supplemental nutrition programs for women, children, and infants – $218,513
Programs such as these have helped Alabama to gain a national ranking in several important categories. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montgomery ranks second of all cities in the nation for providing the highest average salary to its community health workers. Also, Alabama has the third-highest overall concentration of nursing instructors of all states in the nation.
Alabama’s Public Health Professionals
Improving the state’s overall level of public health is a team effort accomplished by players in a wide range of careers. Some recent examples of collaborative community initiatives include:
- The Tuscaloosa County Health Department recently hosted a drive-through flu clinic offering free vaccinations to participants with a Medicaid/Medicare-Part B card.
- The Mobile County Health Department recently partnered with Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) to host the annual Kick Butts Day at Cathedral Square in Downtown Mobile. In another event the Health Department partnered with Wal Mart and the American Cancer Society to offer colon and breast screenings at participating stores in the Mobile area.
- After an extended period of heavy rains, last January the Alabama Department of Public Health’s State Health Officer ordered that all shellfish harvesting be stopped in Baldwin and Mobile Counties due to possible bacterial contamination from the deluge.
Alabama’s public health professionals specialize in a variety of different areas and must possess a multitude of capabilities to meet a range of challenging demands. The following are examples of jobs and associated descriptions from the Alabama Department of Public Health, which places public health professionals at county health departments across the state:
- Epidemiologist – Incumbents must use and develop data to educate the population about, as well as identify and resolve, public health issues stemming from infectious diseases.
- Nutritionist – Incumbents will provide nutritional counseling and assessments as part of public health outreach programs.
- Public Health Educator – Incumbents will coordinate public health education programs on a range of topics including tobacco or cancer awareness, bioterrorism, and health promotion.
- Public Health Environmentalist – Incumbents will work in a specific field of environmental health such as vector control, sewage, food protection, or lodging.
- Health Services Administrator – Incumbents will perform administrative functions for a variety of programs sponsored by state and county health departments.
Degree Programs that Makes a Difference
Education is an essential part of any successful long-term career in the field of public health. Experienced candidates will know that going beyond the minimum educational requirements can be highly advantageous in a competitive field. Master’s-level education, particularly a Master of Public Health (MPH), is often a requirement for more advanced positions in a given job class.
The following are the actual qualifications for different public health jobs with the Alabama Department of Public Health, which also places professionals in county health departments throughout the state. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the public health professions that contribute to making Alabama safer and healthier, but does present a good example of the kinds of qualifications employers in the field are looking for:
- Epidemiologist – Requires a Master’s of Public Health or Master’s of Science with a major in Public Health
- Health Services Administrator – Requires a general bachelor’s degree plus a master’s degree in Public Health, Public Administration, Business Administration, or a closely related field; candidates with a bachelor’s degree in one of these specific fields can also qualify
- Nutritionist – Requires at least a bachelor’s degree in Community Nutrition, Dietetics, or a closely related public health field
- Public Health Educator – Requires at least a bachelor’s degree in Public Health, Community Health, Health Education, or other related field
- Public Health Environmentalist – Requires at least a bachelor’s degree in Physical Science, Environmental Science, Mathematics, Biology, or Chemistry
Alabama’s Public Health Resources
Because of the range of issues public health professionals tackle, an equally broad range of organizations across Alabama employ these professionals as they concentrate on specific challenges within their fields of expertise.
State and county health departments such as these are among the top employers of public health professionals in the state:
- Jefferson County Department of Health, serving Birmingham
- Huntsville-Madison County Health Department
- Mobile County Health Department
- Montgomery County Health Department
- Tuscaloosa County Health Department
- Alabama Department of Public Health
Public health organizations such as these are also vital players addressing and resolving Alabama’s most serious health and well-being issues:
- Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition (ACCCC)
- Birmingham Office of the American Diabetes Association
- Community Health Initiative Committee in Huntsville
- Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama in Decatur
- Medical Aids Outreach of Alabama in Montgomery
- Alabama Partners for Clean Air