Dr. Monica Bharel Discusses Opportunities and Challenges Facing Public Health
The facets and factors impacting public health in the United States are many. From the opioid epidemic, homelessness, to environmental conditions influenced by climate change, public health often lies at the intersection of art and science—using data and creativity to educate people and enact change on the wide range of issues that can affect health and well-being.
So why is public health important?
While healthcare is focused on treating or curing of individuals, public health seeks for ways to keep populations healthy and prevent disease. In medicine, when a patient shows symptoms of a disease or ailment, a physician, nurse, or physician’s assistant can prescribe a treatment. Public health goes beyond treatment to confront the underlying root of health disparities, like social determinants of health, and finds opportunities to speak out about ways for people to stay healthy. This goal to prevent disease and promote health connects government agencies, academia, community-based and non-profit organizations, and health professionals across the world.
To put it another way, public health looks attempts to paint a more complete picture of a person before they become a patient. Take a person is diagnosed with diabetes. A physician will prescribe the appropriate medications to treat that disease. But public health workers ask questions and seek answers that must be found outside a clinic or exam room. Does this patient have a living situation where they can refrigerate their medicine? Do they have access to affordable fruits and vegetables within their budget to get their blood sugar in check? Do they live in a neighborhood that allows them to exercise safely? Do they have paid time off or schedule flexibility to regularly see a doctor, or do they have several part time jobs they need to hold on to to get food on the dinner table?
It was these questions that got this week’s guest on Relational Rounds interested in health instead of just healthcare. Dr. Monica Bharel, an extraordinary physician and public health practitioner who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of the homeless and most vulnerable, has been the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for the past three years. Previously, Dr. Bharel served on the faculty of Boston University and Harvard Medical Schools and the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as with various nonprofit organizations and neighborhood health centers. Today, she’s leading Massachusetts’ impressive response to the opioid epidemic, which has resulted in the state being one of the few in the country seeing declines in opioid-related deaths, while also working to reduce health disparities, mitigating rising healthcare costs, and providing care to the homelessness.
Join us this week for a riveting conversation that dives into the toughest issues facing public health today and the action taken by one woman to address them.