November 2018

DEFINING THE FIELD OF PUBLIC HEALTH

“Public health is the science and the art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting physical health and efficiency through organized community efforts,” wrote CHARLES-EDWARD AMORY WINSLOW in 1920. His words helped to define the nascent discipline, and nearly a century later his definition still sets the standard.

Winslow (1877 – 1957) was a respected bacteriologist who made significant advances in occupational health and the improvement of living standards. As a theoretician, historian, and activist, he embraced the fields of environmental health, epidemiology, and disease prevention, as well as public health administrative practice, health education, public health nursing, mental health, and medical care. Winslow authored nearly 600 books and articles on a remarkable range of subjects from infant paralysis to the influence of odor on appetite.

In 1915, Winslow joined Yale University and built its world-renowned Department of Public Health by partnering the academic lab with the community. He took a controversial, multidisciplinary approach, offering courses from across the scientific and academic spectrum.

Following Winslow’s lead, today’s public health professionals come from a wide array of fields and educational backgrounds. This transdisciplinary approach remains critical to meeting the health challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

“Public health is the science and the art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting physical health and efficiency through organized community efforts”

Winslow achieved so much partly because he understood both science and people. Yale School of Public Health is still guided and animated by Winslow’s founding principles: rigorous research combined with social action and community outreach.
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