Public health in Alaska is a collaborative effort between governmental agencies, community organizations, and private partnerships that range from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to the Alaska Environmental Health Association. Funding for community health initiatives comes from these three sectors to promote a wide range of programs that benefit the health and well being of all Alaskans.
Going forward, public health professionals can expect financial support in Alaska in addition to the emotional fulfillment they already receive from providing vital services that promote the state’s overall well being. In 2015 the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services alone was able to obtain $180 million in funding through grants, service contracts, and professional agreements. That comes out to more than $244 allocated for public health purposes for each person in the state from just this one agency.
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That money goes to support programs that help Alaskans live happy and healthy lives. For example, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services provides resources regarding:
- Preparing for disasters like winter weather, volcanoes, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks
- Responding to pandemics and outbreaks of infectious diseases
- Food safety issues
- Chronic disease prevention – a recent effort in this vein was made in a successful educational campaign in the form of a healthy cooking show on youtube starring Alaska chef Rob Kinneen
Alaska’s concerted focus on public health has been paying off. Alaska has ranked well in a number of national categories, as revealed by statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Alaska ranks first in the nation as the top-paying state for Behavioral Disorder Counselors, Substance Abuse Counselors, Rehabilitation Counselors, and Mental Health Counselors
- Alaska has the highest concentration of Environmental Scientists, Health Scientists, and Specialists in the nation
- Alaska has the second-highest concentration of Health Educators of all states in the country
- The rural regions of Southeast Alaska offer Social and Human Service Assistants the fifth-highest average salaries of all rural areas in the nation
- Alaska has the highest concentration of Community Health Workers in the nation, and the fourth-highest concentration of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
- Alaska ranks second in the nation for having the highest concentration of Emergency Management Directors, while Anchorage ranks fourth among all cities in this category
- Alaska offers the fourth-highest average salary for Nursing Instructors of all states in the nation
- Fairbanks has the highest concentration of Dietitians and Nutritionists of all cities in the country
In Alaska, having a successful career in public health starts with an ideological commitment to making the state a better place, whether it through environmental protection, or promotion of mental health.
Alaska’s Public Health Professionals
Public health professionals have a variety of choices when it comes to finding a career path that matches an individual’s ideological motivations and professional capabilities. State and local health departments are leaders in public health, supported by local non-profits and NGOs. The following job descriptions were taken from actual Anchorage municipality job boards in 2015 and are shown here as examples:
- Public Health Supervisor – duties include planning and supervising of community health services
- Community Health Supervisor – duties include supervising and organizing public and community health programs, such as budget management, grant applications, and contract coordination
- Public Health Dietician – duties including providing educational and consulting services regarding nutrition through health and human service programs to the general public
- Environmental Specialist – duties include quality-control inspections, enforcement activities, and inspections for water pollution and other hazardous waste pollution
- Senior Public Health Nurse – duties include planning and providing a full range of public health nursing services according to Alaska guidelines
Professionals working with Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services also strive tirelessly to improve the overall health and well being of the state’s residents. One example of this has been the state’s reduction in its rates of tuberculosis, which at one time in Alaska’s history were some of the highest in the world. Recognition events like World Tuberculosis Day 2015 is one of the strategies state public health officials have recently taken to raise awareness about the disease, which is still active at relatively high rates in Alaska.
Public health programs like these are taking places in cities, towns, and villages all across Alaska.
Public health is an ongoing effort made by a variety of state, local, and non-governmental organizations across Alaska. For example, in Anchorage the following public health projects have recently been launched by cooperating state and local authorities, as well as non-profit organizations:
- Anchorage Domestic Violence Prevention Project – this project has the goals of intervention in and prevention of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, sexual assault, and youth violence. The project is made up of Anchorage’s Community Safety and Development program and the Mayor’s Community Action Plan.
- Anchorage Women’s Commission – the goal of this commission is to improve the opportunities for women in the local community. It accomplishes this by researching women’s issues, analyzing the needs of women at local levels, and encouraging women to take positions of leadership.
Education for Public Health Professionals in Alaska
Education is central to any professional who wants to advance their career in any number of public health fields. Candidates who are interested in going beyond the entry-level in their professional class as well as developing competitive qualifications are advised to consider pursing a master’s-level education. Public Health is one such master’s degree program that will provide students with an advanced level of understanding in a range of fields that will allow for career advancement as well as improved professional performance.
Using the professional classification examples taken from Anchorage reveals the following qualifications. These can serve as benchmarks for candidates who are considering equivalent positions at locations throughout Alaska:
Public Health Supervisor – requirements include a bachelor’s degree in Nursing, or two years of work experience in community health combined with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition; work experience may be substituted for on a year-to-year basis with a master’s degree in Public Health, Nursing, Nutrition, or a closely related field.
Community Health Supervisor – requirements include a bachelor’s degree in Health Information, Informatics Management, Nursing, Nutrition, or Health Record Administration, plus five years of relevant professional experience that may be substituted for on a year-to-year basis with a master’s degree in Public Health or other related field.
Environmental Specialist – minimum requirements include a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, Chemistry, another closely-related field, or relevant work experience that may be substituted on a year-to-year basis.
Public Health Dietician – minimum requirements include a bachelor’s degree in Public Health, Nutrition, Dietetics, or other closely related field.
Senior Public Health Nurse – minimum requirements include being able to adequately provide information on important public health issues to the public, and candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree in Nursing or substitute for this with approved experience as a nurse practitioner.
Public Health Resources in Alaska
Promoting public health in Alaska is in the state’s best interests as well as those of community members. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services provides public health services to branches located in major population centers across Alaska. Anchorage Health and Human Services provides public health services to residents throughout its jurisdiction.
Other community, and non-profit organizations that provide public health services in Alaska include:
- Anchorage Community Mental Health Services
- Alaska Environmental Health Association
- Mental Health Association in Alaska
- Alaska Behavioral Health Association
- Alaska Public Health Association
- Alaska Addiction Professional Association
- Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium