More reading to understand what public health is all about

Continuing the series on what to read to understand public health, there are two excellent books which I think will suit two different, but overlapping, readerships.

Now, none of these books are a laugh a minute, but then they weren’t intended to be and neither is this blog.  Each of these books helped me, and each of these books approached in a structured way will help you.

Ross C Brownson et al, Evidence Based Public Health. Second Edition

 Oxford University Press (USA). 2010. Hardback. ISBN 978-0195397895

 Yes, one person on Amazon has described this book as “unreadably boring”. I think that assessment is simply rubbish.  This book twinned with Donaldson and Donaldson Essential Public Health is a good pairing.  Brownson gives you a structured set of tools and approaches, Donaldson gives you a good grounding in key policy and approaches from a British context.

Read this book if:

  1. You are new to public health or someone from another field wanting to be in the know about some things these odd public health people do all day, and understand whether there might be something in it that helps you achieve your aims for better public services
  2. You want to understand the cycle of what public health practice is and are prepared to follow a reasonably structured approach
  3. You are concerned about making a difference to what you do using evidence
  4. You want to understand how evaluation can help you
  5. You are a bit of a “newbie” to searching and using evidence
  6. You are a trained and experienced public health professional and have had the role of training people in any of 1-6 given to you.

I’ve used this book with planners, housing professionals, social care commissioners, childrens’ commissioners, policy staff and environmental health officers.

Some of the chapters in this book can be used on their own. For example, I used Chapter 8 – “Developing and Prioritizing Intervention Options” on its own as the basis of a working group with some voluntary sector professionals wanting to do work on health improvement.  I’ve also used Chapter 7, “Searching the Scientific Literature and Organizing Information” with trainees, and Chapter 2 on “Assessing Evidence” makes a really good first read for people wanting to be evidence-informed in their practice.

If you work in the third sector, local government or NHS in the UK, you should be able quite easily to recognise where the US context of this book and the UK policy context differs. The fact that this book is written from a US context does not, in my view, detract from its value.

Use this book to dip into and out of, but if you are reading a chapter you need to read the whole Chapter to get the best out of it.

The book has a lot of helpful diagrams, and links to further reading and websites. I think this is a good book for preparing people to be public health minded and use public health in their work. Brownson has a high web presence to boot, with many articles, tools and presentations across the web which people can learn from.

Muir Gray, Evidence-Based  Healthcare And Public Health – How to make decisions about Health Services and Public Health. Third Edition

Churchill Livingstone. 2009. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-443-10123-6

 There are times I feel that I should mention Muir Gray’s hallowed name with some kind of honorific or a slight bow of reverence. Knight of the Realm, CBE, sometime director of the National Knowledge Service for the NHS ; NHS Chief Knowledge Officer; Professor of Knowledge Management in the Nuffield Department of Surgery at the University of Oxford; and Director of Better Value Healthcare Ltd, UK . You get the picture.

Sir Muir is a man who shares his knowledge and insight and leaves his mark on you. Love him or dislike him, this man will leave a welcome and helpful mark upon your practice and methods if you are amenable. If you don’t believe me just google him. An oft-used quote which sums him up is:

 ‘In the 21st century, knowledge is the key element to improving health. In the same way that people need clean, clear water, they have a right to clean, clear knowledge’

 This book is fantastic. Ok, I’m biased, but rarely a month goes by when I don’t consult my tatty copy of this book to help me understand and check that I am getting the best from the evidence and information I am using to advise people.

 Read this book if:

  1. You are  i) someone such as an Environmental Health Officer or Graduate in another field,  ii) you are working in public service including third sector, iii) you have a grasp of public health principles and iv)  you want to hone your skills in evidence-based public health practice
  2. You want more on managerial decision making in the use of evidence for prioritizing than perhaps
  3. You are employed in public health or are a GP or commissioner and want to make sure you are improving the public’s health through your work
  4. You are a Director or Consultant in Public Health and sometimes feel you have developed major short term memory problems
  5. You want to put a periodic check in that you are practising effectively in evidence-based work
  6. You’ve read Brownson and are looking for the next stage

 Muir Gray writes well and shares significant experience.

These books are good and valuable reads. Brownson is almost a mini course in public health methodology. Muir Gray is a toure de force in evidence-based practice. Both should help you.

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