Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Life and Death from the Public Health Perspective

Life and Death from the Public Health Perspective

As you probably know, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) launched a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program in 2014. It is the only one of its kind in West Texas. I am thrilled that we did it.

Public health deals with groups of people rather than individual patients; however, individual patients are certainly part of the whole. The TTUHSC Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences currently administers our MPH program, but the program will eventually be a part of a proposed future TTUHSC School of Public Health.

There are so many interesting things in the public health arena. For example, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal detailed a strange occurrence that happens around the holiday season, from Christmas to New Year's, which is a peak time for death from natural causes. In fact, December 25 and 26 and January 1 are the three deadliest days of the year. Furthermore, more people die during the month of January compared to other months of the year. On New Year's Day alone, an average of 158,638 people die according to a study of a five-year period. By comparison, during the summer months that number is around 122,000.

Not to be morbid, but a public health person would ask why this happens among other questions, and maybe we should ask too as health care providers. Are some of these deaths preventable? Is it because it is cold? Is it because people are depressed during holidays? Is it because people can't get in to see a doctor during the holidays? Is it because our emergency departments are crowded? Is this a big time for the flu?

Researchers have separated the instances of natural death into five major groups of disease, including circulatory aliments, diseases of the respiratory system, cancer, endocrine nutritional and metabolic disorders, and diseases of the digestive system. The spike occurs in all but cancer.

I certainly don't know the answer to all the questions, but I expect it probably involves a combination of several factors as with most of these things. I do think that those of us who are in the direct delivery side of health care should find the subject interesting, since it underscores a great opportunity for synergy between the TTUHSC School of Medicine and the MPH program.

Written by: Brent Magers, CEO