What is Preventive Medicine? Is It the Medical Field for Me?
Many are curious to know exactly what is preventive medicine? Preventive medicine is a medical specialty that focuses on the health of individuals and communities. The goal of preventive medicine is to promote health and well-being and prevent disease, disability, and death. Preventive medicine specialists must have a broad range of medical skills as well as expertise in behavioral, economic, environmental, and social sciences. A doctor of preventive medicine can help create healthier communities, save lives, and transform healthcare systems. If you are considering a career in preventive medicine, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you interested in helping individuals as well as entire communities?
- Do you want to help stop diseases before they strike?
- Are you socially conscious and oriented to the big picture?
- Are you fascinated by health issues related to space or undersea travel?
- Do you want to influence how companies and organizations treat their workers?
- Do you want to address health concerns at the community, state, or federal level?
If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then preventive medicine may be the career path for you.
WHY IS PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IMPORTANT?
All doctors engage in a certain amount of preventive care, meaning they focus on corrective or curative care after a patient already has a disease or unhealthful condition. Preventive medicine physicians focus on disease prevention and health promotion to try to keep people—and entire communities—from getting sick.
Specialists in the field assess medical conditions and perform physical examinations, make diagnoses and develop treatment plans, evaluate health programs and policies, and use diagnostic studies and tests. They may help people quit smoking, lose weight, eat healthfully, or reduce alcohol or drug use.
Preventive medicine physicians also help ensure healthy pregnancies and safe work environments, treat depression, work in poison control, and administer vaccinations to prevent such diseases and viruses as COVID-19, influenza, measles, meningitis, polio, pneumonia, or shingles. Many physicians in this specialty have aspects of their work and its impacts on society published in a preventive medicine journal such as The American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Some preventive medicine specialists focus on the health of such people as astronauts or undersea divers who spend prolonged periods of time in extreme atmospheric environments.
What is preventive medicine’s overall goal? Preventive care includes the assessment of behavioral, cultural, and social influences on health, as well as:
- Blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes tests
- Cancer screenings such as colonoscopies and mammograms
- Control of environmental and occupational factors
- Counseling on various health topics
- Health services management and administration
- Wellness visits
Preventive medicine physicians may specialize in Aerospace Medicine, Occupational Medicine, or Public Health and General Preventive Medicine. Aerospace Medicine focuses on the health, performance, and safety of crew members and passengers of air and space vehicles. Occupational Medicine focuses on the physical and mental health of workers by improving the physical, social, and structural conditions of the workplace. Public Health and General Preventive Medicine focuses on promoting health and preventing disease in individuals and communities. Preventive medicine physicians may work in such fields as behavioral and mental health, environmental health, epidemiology, health systems management, infectious disease, or lifestyle medicine. Because it includes expertise in population health, preventive medicine bridges clinical practice and public health.
HOW DO YOU TRAIN FOR CAREER IN PREVENTIVE MEDICINE?
A preventive medicine physician must first earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree by graduating from a four-year medical school—such as the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC School of Medicine). The doctor must then complete a three-year residency in a preventive medicine specialty, during which the resident often earns a Master of Public Health or equivalent degree. Qualified candidates are then certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM), and they may apply for membership in the American College of Preventive Medicine. Doctors who want to subspecialize in a specific area of preventive medicine must take additional fellowship training approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Fellowships last one or two years, during which preventive medicine doctors may subspecialize in:
- Addiction Medicine
- Clinical Informatics
- Medical Toxicology
- Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine
Preventive medicine may be combined with internal or family medicine or other disciplines. Combined residencies are usually four years in length, and after successful completion of the residency, doctors may be “double-boarded”—certified by the ABPM and the American Board of Internal Medicine or other medical specialty board.
A CAREER IN PREVENTIVE MEDICINE
Public Health and General Preventive Medicine physicians may work in a clinic, government agency, hospital, medical office, public health department, or university, and some have their own private practice. Occupational Medicine physicians may work on-site with businesses, companies, or corporations. Practitioners of Aerospace Medicine or Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine may at times work in remote locations under extreme conditions. Preventive medicine physicians often work in laboratories or with the military. A large part of the profession is dedicated to research and interpreting data, and meetings and administration tasks also absorb large amounts of time. Hours are also spent consulting with other specialists, studying, and teaching. Some preventive medicine physicians work a typical 40-hour week, while others work much more. Hours will vary according to the scope of practice or health emergencies and complications that may arise on an individual, public, or systematic level.
Because preventive medicine physicians are needed for a wide variety of health and wellness issues, they can have a tremendous impact on the individual lives of patients as well as overall community health.
DEMAND FOR PREVENTIVE MEDICINE PHYSICIANS
Preventive medicine is an expanding field as the value of delaying or averting illness and disease becomes better appreciated. Communities, corporations, and individuals are promoting healthier lifestyles—and it is more than just an interest in good health. Healthier lifestyles reduce medical expenses: it costs a lot less to prevent illness than it does to try to cure it. Like doctors in all medical fields—preventive care physicians are an aging population. As doctors retire, there will be an increasing shortage of preventive care specialists. In July 2020, an Association of American Medical Colleges report showed that one third of United States physicians are age 60 or older, and well over half—57 percent—are over 50 years old.
Now that you know exactly what is preventive medicine and what a physician in this specialty does, you can take the next step in your path to becoming a doctor. Take the next step on your path to becoming a preventive medicine physician: apply for admission to AUC School of Medicine.