Working for the Lee County Health Department was an eye opener.
I'm not sure how other health departments are structured but this one primarily 1. keep food and physical environment safe by visiting restaurants, hotels, day cares, monitor lead and water pollution 2. prevent the occurrence and spread of disease by working with community partners 3. prepare for and respond to disaster and emergencies.
I worked in the #2 capacity--preventing the occurrence and spread of disease.
This began with a community health assessment (CHA), which occurs once every four years in Lee County. The assessment is 20 minutes long. So I would call different business and locations to see if we could conduct a CHA or set up a drop box with surveys. I conducted CHA at food banks, free clinics, employment security commission, chamber of commerce, pharmacies, libraries, post office, fairs and many more different places. At certain point, this job was repetitive in some aspects and yet it continued to be challenging.
Another aspect of #2 was to attend monthly meetings of taskforce composed of health organizations, school districts, farmers cooperative, etc. The meeting serves to discuss past actions, and future plans and main community problems. One such problem is the rate of obesity in Lee County, which I found to be a shocking >50%! One project that I worked on to address this issue of obesity is to organize a pilot exercise in the park program. I served as a coordinator, planner, diplomat, promoter to help bring the project to life.
Another job that I performed with #2 is to work as a student nurse in the health clinic. The health clinic serves a majority of people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The wait times occasionally was greater than 2 hours due to lack of interpreters. The clinic helps to screen pregnancy, STDS, help maintain healthy course of pregnancy, vaccinations, well-child visits, etc. I think the most interesting experience in the clinic was to meet someone who was recently diagnosed/treated with an STD and a day later encounter that same person trying to hook up with an obese woman. Ugh. I am bound by HIPAA and confidentiality. But I'm looking into finding out what measures we have against preventing/stopping this kind of reckless behavior?
Finally, I'm attending a Crisis Intervention Training for Law Enforcement Officers. This CIT helps police officers recognize psychiatric illness and crisis and help them form appropriate response. The ultimate goal is to bring the person to seek medical attention, rather than to incarcerate the said person during an acute psychiatric crisis.
These are but a few of the projects I've been involved with at the local government level this past summer. There are many ways to be involved, if any of the above sounds interesting to you!