Created for the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health


When you’re sick, you go to the doctor and the doctor treats your disease. They’ve been trained to do that pretty well. But what do you do when you’re healthy? Well, you probably just go about your day. You’ve got a busy life, we all do. And you can’t afford to be sick.

So what if I told you there are people out there whose job it is to make sure you stay healthy? And what if I told you these are people you’ve probably never met? Well, these folks are in a field called public health. And their mission is to promote health and prevent disease. Doctors, on the other hand, are on a mission to treat disease.

So let’s say this person is diagnosed with diabetes. Now it’s the doctor’s job to treat her patient. She’ll prescribe medications and insulin to help him meet his target blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, he’ll have to keep going back for prescriptions for the rest of his life because there is no cure. To make matters worse, he will have to deal with issues like long-term health complications, health insurance concerns, and even social discrimination. And don’t forget his medical bill, almost fourteen thousand dollars a year. His priorities in life are now secondary to his disease. Sure, modern medicine has come a long way. But is this the best way to address disease?

Well, let’s take a step back and focus on preventing disease. According to public health researchers, simple things like a healthy diet and regular exercise can help prevent the onset of diabetes. So public health folks put their health promotion and disease prevention mission to work. They lower the prices of healthier foods and beverages in school cafeterias to promote a healthy diet. And they build community sidewalks, trails, and bike lanes to promote exercise. And at a fraction of the cost of disease treatment, public health makes it really easy for people to stay healthy in the first place. No diabetes means no long-term health complications, no health insurance concerns, and no social discrimination. Just health promotion and disease prevention.

And the crazy thing is, it works. Really well. Because people you’ve never met, people you’ve never even talked to, devote their time to make sure you stay healthy.