Ethics are moral principles that govern a person’s behavior. Ethics define and systemize what is right versus wrong, and are used to guide society to make good, moral choices. In the field of public health, ethics are used to steer public health actions. According to the Center of Disease Control, “Public health ethics is the application of relevant principles and values to public health decision making.” Learn more about the role of public health ethics below.
At the core of public health is partnership and collaboration. This unique profession is braided into the structures of multiple and various sectors, including the healthcare system, education systems, community services, government, many others. Often, public health programs are implemented on an as-needed basis—as funding allows and as priorities are re-assessed. The nature of this profession means that, in a public health role such as an epidemiologist, public health director, public health educator, or disaster/emergency specialist, you can count on flexing your balancing skills.
With every new project, you’ll be on a mission to fulfill a public health agenda. The settings you’ll work in might be as diverse and different from one another as a public school is from a municipal watershed area, or a factory is from a state-funded laboratory. To complete your mission successfully, you’ll need to integrate your plan into the existing systems at the site or institution, in a way that respects the leadership and processes that are already in place to serve its people. The public health professional who has an in-depth understanding of ethics will perform this balancing act best.
An ethical barometer is not something you’re born with, necessarily, but rather something that you can learn. In fact, ethics are a core component of a public health master’s education. Particularly, ethics play a key role in Goodwin’s Master’s in Public Health (MPH) program.
At Goodwin, MPH degree students study ethics theory in the seminar, Ethical Issues in Research. This is a course that makes a lasting impression and can become one of your most useful assets, as students learn how to handle human data with scientific integrity.
At the risk of making public health professionals sound like secret agents, most do handle sensitive data every day on the job. They might not be rifling through classified filing cabinets under the cover of night, but they do use surveys and advanced computer technology to collect, sort, and calculate conclusions from data – data that could involve a human’s lifestyle habits, health condition, age, or sexual orientation, just to name a few. Handling and processing personally identifiable information (PII) comes under special scrutiny in government and healthcare settings in particular, under privacy rules and regulations such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), or the U.S. General Services Administration’s Rules of Behavior for Handling PII. Now, you won’t have to obtain a law degree as well as your MPH degree to practice in public health, but coursework like Public Health Policy and Environmental Health Policy will help you tackle the essentials and know how to conduct your job in compliance with all levels of regulations.
Now that we’ve covered the policy-oriented side of ethical public health practice, lets discuss some of the more delicate, balancing challenges you can expect to face when working with diverse communities. In America, our lives are governed by a set of rules that ensures the freedoms and safeties of citizens. Of course we’re talking about the U.S. Constitution, which grants many liberties including freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly, voting rights, the right to property, arms, law counsel and due process of law, and protection against unreasonable search and seizure. American citizens have the right to choose what they eat and drink, where they live, what they spend money on, how to take care of their health, whether to gain education, how to make an income, and generally, to pursue happiness however they see fit (within the lines of the law). Most would agree it is wonderful to exist in a democracy where so much freedom is granted, but as we all know, great freedom comes with responsibility.
An adult may choose to partake in any number of activities that in fact are risks to their health, such as to smoke cigarettes, eat junk food, or use drugs. As a public health professional, your job to educate and promote healthy habits through studies, programs and policies may be met with anger or defensive behavior. Is it unethical to promote one lifestyle choice as “better” than another? It’s important to consider how much choice individuals really have, because there are always other, often intertwined factors that influence actions. It can be difficult to parse apart the socioeconomic, genetic, and environmental factors that could be at the root of a choice. In chapter six of the World Health Organization World Health Report 2000, on health systems and improving performance, the government’s role as a steward of health is discussed. The WHO’s position is that governments should manage national resources and offer the opportunity for the health and well-being of citizens. Ensuring equal access to those resources is another complicated discussion, and one that public health professionals are at the forefront of. Ethics and advocacy underscore public health endeavors, and professionals who work in this field often provide a valuable service in regulating access and distribution of care and programs to underserved populations.
A career-focused Master’s in Public Health can be earned completely online from Goodwin University. This degree helps graduates qualify for impactful, life-changing jobs. Lifetime access to Goodwin University’s career services ensures that you’re always reaching for your next big career goal, with the assurance that you can get there. For more information about the program or how to apply, we’re waiting for your call at: 800-889-3282.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.