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Why Community Engagement Matters in the Field of Public Health

The health of a population is influenced by several factors beyond an individual’s health behavior. Interpersonal relations among family, friends and social networks, the condition of one’s community, the organizational structure of health and medical agencies, and laws and policy, influence the quality of life for all individuals. Within the Social Ecological Model of health promotion, each level of health influence addresses the context in which a person lives and works, and the availability of public health resources. This model serves as the underpinnings of the community; as such, community engagement is vital to the field of public health.

Public health aims to increase the quality of life for communities and populations across the globe. The disciplines of study within the field of public health strive to assess community needs, identify potential disease outbreaks, develop and evaluate health promotion programs, ensure a safe and healthy living environment, and administer public health resources effectively. As a way to maximize these efforts, community engagement is encouraged, supported and reinforced in each facet of public health. Community engagement is also practiced within each level of health influence.

What Is Community Engagement?

Communities are defined as fluid spaces in which individuals operate and function. These spaces share common characteristics, and communities may represent concrete structures such as a city, state, school or neighborhood. Communities may also identify abstract structures such as race and gender. Community engagement is the process by which organizations and groups collaborate with members of the community to influence positive health outcomes. In other words, community engagement allows public health experts and community members to work together toward one common goal: improving the health of a community.

In order for community engagement efforts to be considered successful, public health officials must first identify and select community members to serve as key stakeholders. Next, community members and collaborating partners work collectively to locate additional community members based on the desired public health outcomes. The inclusion of additional community members serves multiple purposes. First, additional community members help to verify that public health concerns are being met, and offer a diverse perspective of the space in which individuals live in. The inclusion of community members also aids in the creation and use of tailored, culturally competent health education materials and programs. Finally, embracing and incorporating the views of the community helps to sustain and strengthen public health efforts for future collaborations.

MPH Programs Should Foster Community Engagement

When looking for an MPH program, the level of community engagement a school has is a positive sign of the strength of its public health initiatives. The University of South Carolina routinely engages in evidence-based and sustainable community engagement activities, and has been lauded for its collaborative efforts by agencies and foundations such as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Academic administrators, faculty and staff at the University of South Carolina understand the importance of effective community engagement as a part of the University’s strategic plan, and within academic departments.

Communities are more likely to adopt healthier behaviors if members experience a sense of empowerment within all phases of program development. Thus, community engagement is important to the field of public health as an essential tool for improving public health programs by developing competent health experts that can influence health outcome within any community or discipline.

Learn more about the University of South Carolina’s online MPH program.


Sources:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCC). Social Ecological Model. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/crccp/sem.htm

UofSC recognized for community engagement efforts. Retrieved from: http://www.sc.edu/uofsc/stories/2015/carnegie_community_engagement_2015.php#.VY1epRtVikq

Global Communities Partner for Good. Five Steps to Successful Community Engagement and Mobilization. Retrieved from: http://www.globalcommunities.org/node/38087

Community Planning Toolkit. Retrieved from: http://www.communityplanningtoolkit.org/community-engagement


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