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Public Health in Texas: Finding Innovative ways to combat health challenges

Texas public health professionals are finding innovative ways to combat health challenges such as chronic illness. There is much to be done over the coming years.

Select a Texas Public Health Topic:

Texas Public Health Organizations

The Texas Department of Health has primary responsibility for public health in Texas. The following are among the major divisions:

  • Disease Control and Prevention
  • Family and Community Health
  • Local and Regional Health

There are many programs. The Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention Section, for example, includes the following:

  • Texas Comprehensive Cancer Control Program
  • Texas Kidney Disease Education Program
  • Obesity Prevention Program
  • Texas School Health Program

Public health policies are based on extensive data gathering and analysis. “Health Status of Texas 2014” was compiled by the State Epidemiologist and by professionals from the Center for Health Statistics. Contributions were made by professionals from other units such as the Infectious Disease Control Unit, Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance, and the Texas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Texas has more than 100 local public health organizations (http://dshs.texas.gov/regions/lhds.shtm). The state boasts four local health departments or districts that are accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board: the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, Tarrant County Public Health, and the Williamson County and Cities Health District.

Among the public health stakeholders are the state’s health systems. Whether the payer is Medicare or a private insurer, there is a push to prevent -- and control -- chronic illness. Rio Grande Valley Accountable Care Organization Health Providers, LLC was profiled by the national Healthy People initiative in 2015 (https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/healthy-people-in-action/story/increasing-the-rates-of-patients-with-controlled-diabetes-in-the has an ADA-certified Diabetes Education Center). RGV ACO has a certified diabetes education center. Healthy People reported that some offices were holding uncontrolled diabetes clinics on a weekly basis and making a nutrition technician available. The efforts saw results. The percentage of patients who were managing to control their diabetes increased from less than a quarter (23.29%) in 2012 to nearly half (49.17%) in 2014.

The Texas Health Institute is a member of the National Network of Health Institutes. The Health in All Policies Project is among its activities. (http://www.texashealthinstitute.org/texas-health-in-all-policies-project-t-hiapp.html).

Public Health Degree Programs

Texas boasts many public health degree programs. Some are offered at the bachelor's level. A student can select a combined bachelor's/ master's program or a standard four year program. The program may offer a concentration such as community health education; it is not uncommon for health educators to have education below the graduate level. Some students who plan to pursue clinical fields at the graduate level select public health as an undergraduate major.

Students can expect coursework in all core areas of public health. The University of Texas Health Science Center defines these core areas as epidemiology; biostatistics; behavioral science and health promotion, community health management, and policy; and environmental and occupational health.

A student may choose to specialize in one of these core areas or in another specialty or sub-discipline. Biostatistics and epidemiology are sometimes combined. The following is a sample of some of other concentrations that are available through Texas schools:

  • Maternal and child health
  • Hispanic and border health
  • Community health education
  • Health services research

The majority of Texas programs are at the master's or doctoral level.

A practicum is one of the key components of a graduate program. A student may be able to research and arrange his or her internship. The student can expect to go through a series of steps to ensure that the experience meets the intended learning objectives and that he or she receives credit. DSHS is among the potential internships (http://dshs.texas.gov/volunteer/default.shtm).

Internships and practicum experiences can lead to long-term employment. The Office/Event Coordinator of the Texas Health Institute, for example, was a former intern.

Some students opt for dual degrees. The Texas State Epidemiologist has both an MPH and a PhD.

Spotlight on Health Promotion in Texas

Social and behavioral sciences are considered a core area of public health. They are crucial to health promotion. The goal is not just to provide public health information but to match the campaign to the audience. A recent Texas study sought to change teenage eating habits in a novel manner (http://schoolpress.cshgreenwich.org/cshmsparents/2016/10/20/want-teenage-kids-eat-healthy-try-reverse-psychology/). Eating healthy was portrayed not as a way to be hip or cool or avoid health issues down the line but rather as a way to spurn negative and hypocritical adult influence and act for social justice. Eighth grade participants were divided into groups. Those who read about the food industry creating addictive products and marketing them to poor people and children -- and who saw food industry executives portrayed as hypocritical grownups -- were more disturbed later by ads for sugary drinks; they were more likely to select healthy snacks.

One of the lead researchers was from the University of Texas at Austin.

Public Health Careers

Public health professionals follow diverse career paths. The following are recent examples of positions for which individuals with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in public health could be considered:

  • Epidemiologist for the Department of State Health Services
  • Program Specialist for the Department of State Health Services
  • Chronic Disease Prevention Program Manager for a Texas county
  • Infection Control and Prevention Coordinator for a hospital
  • Epidemiologist for a health center
  • Quality Improvement Consultant for a nonprofit consulting company
  • Bilingual Research Area Specialist for a health science center
  • Director of Community Engagement and Public Health at a Texas university
  • Part-time Health Educator at a Texas university

Additional Resources

The Texas Public Health Association is an additional resource (http://www.texaspha.org/). TPHA has a scholarship program (http://www.texaspha.org/Scholarships).