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Professional Version

Public Health and One Health


Donald L. Noah

, DVM, DACVPM, College of Veterinary Medicine and DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, Lincoln Memorial University

Reviewed/Revised Dec 2022 | Modified Jun 2023

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” As a field, public health can be defined as the evidence-based public and private efforts that preserve and promote health and prevent disease, disability, and death. Major components of public health include population health, community health, mental health, environmental and ecological health, and occupational and recreational health. Although only a minority of veterinarians report primary public health employment, virtually all veterinarians contribute to the overall public health effort.

One Health

One Health is the name for the concept that the health of people and animals as well as the environment is inextricably linked. As a field, One Health is the collaborative effort of multiple health science professions, together with their related disciplines and institutions—working locally, nationally, and globally—to attain optimal health for humans, domestic animals, wildlife, plants, and the environment. One Health can be thought of as having three major subcomponents under its umbrella: environmental sciences, clinical (human and animal) medicine, and population (public and herd) health.

The environment is traditionally equated with the physical environment, excluding social, economic, cultural, and genetic influences. However, effective surveillance, analysis, and intervention mandates taking into account these additional environmental variables. Understanding these environmental attributes is key to the most practical application of One Health in a particular community, country, or region.

The following organizations support One Health:

Public Health Practitioners

A generally accepted definition of a public health practitioner does not exist. For practical purposes, any health professional who sees and acts beyond the single patient is functioning in a population health capacity. Most typically, this includes physicians, veterinarians, dentists, nurses, epidemiologists, laboratorians, industrial hygienists, public health program managers, environmental health specialists, and regulatory agency administrators. Allied health professionals, such as optometrists, physician assistants, psychologists, pharmacists, and entomologists, also contribute according to the scope of their respective practices.

Many public health practitioners possess specific training, and various board-certifying bodies, accrediting entities, and professional societies bolster this training by requiring experience and fostering collaboration. The following links provide information about various national and international opportunities for information, training, certification, and association:

Several public health organizations have jointly developed a set of core competencies that reflect skills appropriate to the effective delivery of public health services. Core competencies are divided into eight domains:

  • analytical and assessment skills

  • policy development/program planning skills

  • communication skills

  • cultural competency skills

  • community dimensions of practice skills

  • public health sciences skills

  • financial planning and management skills

  • leadership and systems thinking skills

More information can be found in the Public Health Foundation's Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals.

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