With high rates of poverty, obesity, and chronic disease, Mississippi has ranked as one of the unhealthiest states in the U.S. for nearly two decades. Fortunately, there are a number of governmental, nonprofit, and other non-governmental organizations working together to resolve some of the state’s most pressing health issues.
Amidst the many organizations working on behalf of the public in Mississippi are countless professionals stemming from diverse educational and professional backgrounds – from social work and community outreach to scientific research and medical treatment. These nurses, biostatisticians, district administrators, health program representatives, environmental specialists, psychologists and others are vital to the successful implementation of Mississippi’s ambitious public health initiatives.
In 2014, the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) identified several areas that will receive priority focus from public health officials in the coming years. The current stated goals of the MSDH are to:
- Reduce poverty and increase educational opportunities
- Improve access to medical services
- Improve access to mental health services
- Reduce chronic disease
- Reduce risky sexual behavior
- Improve infant health
The state budget for the Mississippi State Department of Health in fiscal year (FY) 2014 was $35,339,194, up 9% from FY 2013. In 2014, the state also received $139,383,087 in federal funding for public health programs and initiatives. This funding is being put towards a number of collaborative programs that combine the efforts of state and independent organizations working to address specific issues within Mississippi. For example, the Mississippi State Asthma Plan, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), combines the work of the MSDH, the Asthma Coalition of Mississippi (ACM), and the American Lung Association (ALA).
Other examples of state programs designed to address specific public health needs in Mississippi include:
STD-HIV Surveillance Program: A program that employs Disease Intervention Specialists (DISs) to assist Mississippi residents affected by STDs and HIV, as well as provides free and confidential HIV and STD testing.
Women, Infants and Children’s Nutrition Program (WIC): A supplemental food program designed to provide free, nutritious food for pregnant, breastfeeding, and post-partum women, infants, and children under five years of age. The program also provides breastfeeding support.
Public Health Professionals Working Towards a Healthier Mississippi
The teamwork of the MSDH and various private and nonprofit organizations provides a bulwark of support for Mississippi’s citizens. This collaboration is made possible through public health professionals from diverse backgrounds. Public health social workers with the MSDH, for example, would be expected to:
- Monitor health conditions to identify community health problems
- Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community
- Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues
- Mobilize community partnerships to identify and solve health problems
- Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts
The myriad of professions in the field of public health is rivaled only by the diverse skills needed for specific jobs:
Senior Health Program Specialist: Examples of job duties include collecting and maintaining statistics related to various health programs, working with other agencies to coordinate activities, and planning a public health program designed to prevent communicable diseases.
Direct Care Worker at the State Veterans Home: Examples of job duties include checking patient vital signs and weight, accompanying patients to events outside the home, and assisting patients with personal hygiene.
Behavioral Health Specialist: Examples of job duties include interviewing subjects to obtain behavior data, working with groups or individuals on mental health exercises, and presenting data at health conferences.
Non-governmental organizations also utilize the diverse talents of public health workers. The Mississippi Public Health Institute (MSPHI), for example, employs public health professionals to work on a variety of projects including:
The Evidenced-Based Public Health Project, where the MSPHI staff works with employees at the Mississippi State Department of Health’s state and district offices to learn more about making decisions based on the most current, available scientific evidence through a course called Evidenced-Based Public Health: A Course in Chronic Disease Prevention.
The Clinic to Community: Achieving Health Equity in the Southern United States Project where MSPHI employees work with professionals at Duke University Medical Center to directly treat and assist residents of Quitman County suffering from type 2 diabetes.
Preparing for a Career in Public Health in Mississippi
Most public health workers in Mississippi hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree related to their field of expertise, and many look to expand their understanding of the contextual application of their area of focus through graduate studies in public health.
The Master of Public Health (MPH) has become common among public health workers in a variety of fields, as the Council on Education for Public Health requires all MPH programs to help students develop core competencies in:
- Environmental Health Sciences
- Health Service Administration
- Social and Behavioral Sciences
Many public health workers hold a master’s of public health with a concentration in a specific scientific or communications field.
A sampling of recent public health job postings in Mississippi demonstrates the importance of advanced education:
Health Program Specialist, which requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited four-year college or university in public health, health administration, nursing, public or business administration, urban or regional planning, education, or a related field.
Dietitian, which requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited four-year college or university in dietetics, food and nutrition, food service management, institutional food management, or home economics.
Mississippi’s Public Health Resources
Many students who are enrolled in public health-related programs find career opportunities within Mississippi’s state-sponsored health departments upon graduation. Links to the MSDH and the many county public health departments may be found below:
- Mississippi State Department of Public Health
- List of Mississippi Public Health Departments by county
- Mississippi Public Health Laboratory
Non-Governmental organizations also employ public health professionals. Examples of public health organizations in Mississippi include:
Public health professionals also find career opportunities in the private sector. Just a few of Mississippi’s private institutes that often employ public health workers include:
- School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi
- Dominic Hospital
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi
- Curo Health Services