Oregon is a national leader when it comes to public health. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of many professionals from the public and private sectors, Oregon ranks well in a number of key public health metrics. Oregon is recognized as the number one state in the nation when it comes to avoiding unnecessary use of antibiotics, which is key in avoiding antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Through effective public education campaigns and outreach programs targeting the state’s medical community, the Oregon public Health Division and partner agencies have succeeded in reducing the threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the state.
Good news on one front does not mean victory over all public health challenges. Preventable diseases, environmental contamination, workplace hazards, and many other public health threats keep the state’s epidemiologists, environmental scientists and health program directors busy developing and implementing solutions.
According to the US Department of Labor, as of 2014 Oregon’s public health professionals enjoyed the following distinctions:
- Mental health counselors in Oregon earn the second-highest average salary in the nation, with Bend and Salem ranking among the top-10 cities nationally in this category
- Healthcare social workers earn the fourth-highest average salary in Oregon as compared to all states
- Health educators are found in the highest concentration in Corvallis as compared to all other cities in the country
- Rehabilitation counselors working along the Oregon Coast earn the fifth-highest average salary of all rural areas in the nation
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers are found in one of the highest concentrations in Salem as compared to all other cities nationwide
- Dieticians and nutritionists in the Southern Oregon and Linn County area earn one of the highest average salaries when compared to all non-metropolitan regions in the nation
Oregon’s Public Health Initiatives at Work
Support for public health initiatives in Oregon is evident when looking at state and federal funding. In 2015, the National Institutes of Health granted more than $92 million dollars to fund public health initiatives and research in Oregon, which included:
- $62.4 million to fund research at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland
- $750,385 for Elex Biotech in Portland to conduct research into medicines to prevent ventricular arrhythmia and heart failure
- $485,236 for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board
- $1.7 million for the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene
Public health professionals working for government agencies as well as private and non-profit organizations all play an important role. Some recent examples of public health professionals in action include:
Contaminant Advisories – Biostatisticians, geologists, public health field scientists, and radon testing companies combined their skills and knowledge to publish a report in 2015. This report identified high-risk areas for radon gas exposure around the Willamette Valley, as well as Eastern and Southern Oregon. The colorless and odorless gas seeps out from the earth and can accumulate in buildings in dangerous levels.
As the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, the threat posed by radon was enough to prompt public information officers to issue a warning to Oregonians living in areas that might be particularly at risk.
In another recent event, biologists, lab scientists, and water quality experts reported that the Wickiup Reservoir near Bend might have levels of toxins that exceed safety regulations. The contamination resulted from blue-green algae blooms, which can produce toxins in unsafe levels. Public health officials issued the warning for anyone who may be considering water recreation in the reservoir.
Health Campaigns – Public health campaigns are one of the most effective ways public health threats can be prevented or mitigated. Lives can be saved when the public knows what to do in the event of an emergency such as a disease outbreak or natural disaster. The same holds true for preventable diseases.
Public health professionals promote campaigns to help people stop smoking, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get recommended health screenings. In 2014, biostatisticians and healthcare professionals conducted a Healthy Growth Survey to get better data on the health status of Oregon’s youth. This data is the starting point for developing tailored campaigns to address specific threats that arise from things like obesity, poor hygiene, and poor nutrition. The results of a 2014 report revealed the following for children between the ages of six and nine:
- 68 percent within a healthy weight
- 15 percent overweight
- 15 percent obese, composed of the following subgroups:
- 26 percent of these children are Hispanic
- 13 percent are African American
- 12 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander
- 12 percent are Caucasian
- 19 percent come from lower-income households
- 10 percent come from higher-income households
Education Qualifications for Careers in Public Health
Naturally, a degree in Public Health is often a basic requirement for professionals starting a new career at the entry-level. A Master of Public Health (MPH) is often a requirement for existing public health professionals who want to advance to positions of greater influence in health policy administration.
Also, since MPH programs accept transfer credits from bachelor’s degree programs in any major, these programs are ideal for career changers looking to enter the public health sector.
The interdisciplinary MPH curriculum covers the following core disciplines as required by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH):
- Environmental health
- Social and behavioral sciences
- Health administration and policy
MPH programs available in Oregon’s universities and schools of public health also offer concentrations in these subject areas.
To accommodate the working schedules of public health professionals, online MPH programs are widely available.
A number of undergraduate and graduate degrees in discipline-specific majors also meet the requirements for public health jobs. The following examples are provided for illustrative purposes as surveyed in May of 2015:
Public health educator with the Oregon Public Health Division – Applicants can qualify for this position by having a master’s degree in Education, Health, or a related field.
Epidemiologist I with the Oregon Public Health Division – Applicants can qualify for this position by having a bachelor’s degree in a field related to Epidemiology or Community Health.
Research associate for epidemiology and health policy at the Oregon Health and Science University – To qualify for this position, applicants will need to have a master’s degree in Public Health or Public Policy to include courses in epidemiology.
Outreach coordinator with Health Integrated at locations throughout Oregon – Candidates for this position are expected to have a master’s degree in Public Health, Social Work, Health Administration, or Nursing.
Oregon’s Governmental Public Health Agencies and Other Employers
There are hundreds of public health agencies operating at the state and local levels throughout Oregon’s metropolitan areas and rural counties. These agencies focus on everything from umbrella issues and national advocacy to specific challenges in a particular geographic area. Examples include:
- Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services Division
- Marion County Health Department
- Lane County Health and Human Services
- Washington County Department of Health and Human Services
- Deschutes County Health Services
- Oregon Department of Human Services
- Oregon Public Health Division (PHD)
- PHD Center for Health Protection (CHP)
- The Friends of the Oregon Commission for Women
- Oregon Child Nutrition Coalition
- Portland Metro Fruit and Veggie Coalition
- Nursing Mothers Council of Oregon
- Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon
Non-Profit and Private Organizations
- Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
- Eastern Oregon Women’s Coalition
- Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon
- Oregon League of Conservation Voters
- African American Health Coalition – Portland
- Oregon Public Health Institute
- Oregon Public Health Association