A Registered What?

Article excerpt

You meet the most interesting people when you travel by mass transit, whether by air, land, or water. A few people will avoid conversation at all costs, but must people can be persuaded to tell you their life stories. Occasionally, one of these folks asks about me. At that point, unless they want to hear about environmental health, they have made a grave error in judgement.

I have found that it does not really matter whether I call myself a sanitarian or an environmental health specialist - generally, people have to ask me to explain. With certain professions, that is not the case. Most people instantly know about the practice of those professions and ask about specialties. Our profession, however, seems to remain an enigma. When I consider the massive media exposure given to issues such as food safety, wading pool sanitation, indoor air quality, sewage treatment, and brownfields reclamation, I continue to be confounded by the extent to which the public does not recognize our profession. I collect news articles and tape television shows that cover environmental health activities. Media blitzes, E. coli outbreaks associated with water parks, and exposes of poor sanitation in restaurants all appear in my collection, but the stories almost always identify the environmental health specialist as "the health inspector." Remarkable as it seems, the only time the terms "sanitarian" and "environmental health specialist" are mentioned is when a commentator gives one of us a personal introduction.

Well, back to my fellow passenger on the plane or subway - he can expect me to elaborate on the many and varied aspects of environmental health practice. He can expect me to elaborate on the everyday virtues and near-divine actions of environmental health specialists. He can expect me to recount instances in which we have provided input into major legislation. He can expect me to extol, with pride, the actions of other environmental health professionals, who may or may not have recently received media attention. He can expect me to tally quality-of-life improvements made possible by our preventive interventions. And he can expect to hear about NEHA'g activities that advance the practicing sanitarian.

I have found that most people are polite and seem to listen intently as I ramble on. After my dissertation has ended, they usually react by saying, "Oh, you are a health inspector." Well, of course, that is exactly who I am. That is what I do, and, as part of that process, I educate, test, lobby, and perform almost any other activity necessary to protect my customer - the public.

During Past-President Gist's inaugural address in July 1998, she announced the formation of an ad hoc committee whose charge was to study ways of revitalizing the registration of environmental health specialists. …