What Does a Horseshoe Crab Have to Do with Public Health?

Every year in April, National Public Health Week reminds us that we can all play a part in making our society as healthy as it possibly can be, but you’re likely surrounded by reminders of this all year long and don’t even know it! Even if you already recognize that you’re drawn to public health as a career, you might be surprised to find that some of the most common and unexpected objects in our world contribute to our daily health. For instance, did you know that furniture anchors, horseshoe crabs, paper cups and sidewalks all promote health and well-being in their own ways?

Furniture anchors, which are inexpensive and relatively easy to install, keep furniture from tipping over. They also prevent death by eliminating the possibility of children being trapped or crushed if furniture falls.

The horseshoe crab — the one with the big “helmet” that you’ll frequently see at the shore on the beach — gave humans a clotting compound that is now used to safety-check any IV drug or medical equipment that will come in contact with the human body. The compound can detect deadly bacteria in minute amounts.

The paper cup may not seem like a revolutionary public health innovation, but it was. Drinking from a communal water source is a practice older even than humans, but it’s not a very sanitary one. Drinking water from a public well with a communal dipper could make you sick with a simple cold or something much more life threatening. In the early 1900s, inventor and entrepreneur Lawrence Luellen created the disposable paper cup and saved lives as a result.

Sidewalks are so much a part of our urban and suburban landscape, we often don’t even think about them. That is, until we have to walk down a busy street without them. And that’s how they made their mark on public health — less risk of getting hit by a vehicle and more opportunity to walk for better health and physical fitness.

Choosing Public Health as Your Career

Public health is the science and art of creating healthy communities through health education, disease detection and control and research. The types of careers in this field range, from biomedical laboratory practice to public health practice program management, but most fall under the five core disciplines of behavioral science/health education, biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology and health services administration. Your degree could also be in one of several other core public health areas, such as global health or maternal and child health.

A career in public health opens the door to diverse opportunities in a variety of sectors such as federal, private and non-governmental organizations. In public health, the focus is on protecting health through promoting good habits and healthy lifestyles and preventing disease and injury, rather than diagnosing and treating illness and injury as clinical health professionals, like physicians, do. Consider choosing public health as your career if you’re interested in limiting health disparities by promoting equal access to health care for everyone.


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