Historical Overview of Public Health

Course Description:

Public health was not a profession until the early 20th century following the movement to institutionalize and link health education to medical training. Historically, the concepts of health are rooted in the cultural perceptions surrounding health predominant for the period. Archeological evidence gives us an indication of how these concepts of health evolved over time and impacted the practice of maintaining the health of the population, even affecting how we think of health in the current age. This course will give an overview of the historical record of cultures and how they affected health practices and how these cultural beliefs impacted current public health practices. Additionally, the course will examine the institutionalization of public health in the United States.

This course will consist of two modules. Module one will examine the historical foundation of health beliefs and perceptions up to the 18th century and the emergence of modern thought. Module two will examine how social reform influenced the practice of public health in England and how these beliefs were then transformed into modern public health practice. Finally, module two will describe the institutionalization of public health in the United States.

Target Audience

Academic Faculty/Staff, Federal Government Employees, State Government Employees, Local Government Employees, Non-Government Employees and Students

Learning Objectives

Module 1. Historical Foundations of Health Beliefs Up to the 18th Century

  • To examine the cultural and religious origins of public health beliefs and behaviors
  • To provide selected archeological evidence to verify how public health concepts evolved and impacted the maintenance of health within populations
  • To demonstrate the health impact of the crusades and pilgrimages to the Holy Land through a discussion of epidemics of leprosy and syphilis
  • To illustrate the basis for medical practices in antiquity that by today’s standards seem bizarre
  • To provide specific illustrations (e.g. days of quarantine) of how religious beliefs influence health codes and behaviors

Module 2. Foundations of Public Health in the Modern Era

  • To illustrate the emergence of public health as a profession through the linkage of health education and medical training
  • To discuss influential legislation such as the Hill-Burton Act and their affect on modern medical practice
  • To demonstrate the relationship between state and local health agencies and the important roles played by each
  • To illustrate the positive influence of public health practice on morbidity and mortality as regards the nation’s health
  • To outline and discuss the three critical functions of public health as proposed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM)
Course summary
Available credit: 
  • 2.00 Participation/CE
    Tulane Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE) awards 2.00 hour(s) of credit for completing Historical Overview of Public Health
Course opens: 
Course expires: 


Michael Fleenor
Michael Fleenor, MD, MPH
Health Officer, Jefferson County Department of Health

Available Credit

  • 2.00 Participation/CE
    Tulane Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE) awards 2.00 hour(s) of credit for completing Historical Overview of Public Health


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Required Hardware/software

System Settings 
This course is designed to work most effectively if your computer and internet connection meet certain minimal requirements. This course can be accessed using a Windows 10 PC or a Mac with High Sierra1, Mojave, or Catalina. Pop-up blockers should be disabled when viewing the course. Internet Explorer 11 (for Windows 10), or the current version of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari (for Windows 10 and or Mac) is required. Many of our courses require Java and JavaScript enabled. 

Links to External Websites   
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Adobe Acrobat Reader (for desktops and laptops)  
Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to access some documents in this course. If you need to download a free copy of Acrobat Reader, click here.  

Internet Connection Speed 
A minimum download speed of 1.5 Mbps is recommended for an optimal experience, which is commonly the speed associated with a basic DSL or a cellular/satellite connection. A faster connection, such as cable or fiber service, with further enhance your online experience. A Wi-Fi connection is generally acceptable, but it is dependent upon one of the two services mentioned above. You can check your internet connection speed at http://www.speedtest.net/.