Building Capacity for Public Health Practice through Professional Development

Professional development is an integral component to build capacity to expand the scope and reach of the public health workforce.
— Sandra Melstad

 AUTHOR: Sandra Melstad, MPH, CEO/Public Health Consultant, SLM Consulting, LLC

AUTHOR: Sandra Melstad, MPH, CEO/Public Health Consultant, SLM Consulting, LLC


With the increasing rates of mortality and morbidity attributable to chronic diseases and associated risk factors, including social, economic, and environmental factors, the need to build the capacity of public health professionals is essential. In the current era of public health, there is a call to action need to expand the scope and reach of public health to address all factors that promote health and well-being, including education, transportation, housing, economic development (Fraser, Castrucci, & Harger, 2017). Professional development is an integral component to build capacity to expand the scope and reach of the public health workforce.

Public health has emerged from behind the scenes as leader of community and global initiatives and the reality is that the scope of influence of public health has broadened beyond traditional health departments, necessitating the diversity of relationships needed to improve population health (Yphantides, Escoboza, & Macchione, 2015). The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) see the demand for public health workers broadening to sectors such as business, housing, school, and transportation (2013). Leading public health organizations, such as the DeBeaumont Foundation, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and American Public Health Association, such the see that for public health to be a critical player on the global health stage, the public health workforce needs to have foundational, diverse, and strategic skills in order to make an impact (Fraser et al., 2017). Skills and knowledge are comprehensive, but important, including leadership, budgeting and finance, management, analytic methods, communication, inter-organizational collaboration, the ability to network, advocacy, change management, as well as an understanding of public policy, social media, and culture competence (ASPPH, 2013, Fraser et al., 2017).

Evidence-based public health practice also plays an important role in improving population health. Research conducted the Prevention Research Center at St. Louis (2018), assessed how health departments encourage evidence-based decision making (EBDM). Based on their findings, some of the recommendations to support evidence-based decision making include training to increase skills in EBDM and leadership support for workforce development and staff to attend trainings and conferences.

Over the past month, I have had to opportunity to attend many conferences across the state of South Dakota focused on worksite wellness, livability, health equity, and cancer prevention and control. I also attended the Community Indicators Consortium Impact Summit to learn how experts across the world are using data to guide action, and the National Public Health Law Conference to learn about the important work occurring that is impacting public health policy and law. I had the opportunity learn about important work happening across the nation and world, that I would have not learned about had I stayed in my silo. Siloed efforts of sectors, organizations, health departments, etc. is still a notable challenge across the nation to impacting population health. While it is very easy for any of us to stick to what we know, what an impact that collective efforts can make to improve the health of our communities, neighbors, and children. By attending these conferences, I learned alongside diverse professionals about projects and new approaches making an impact to inform my work, data tools and resources to support public health practice, and a breadth of professionals who could be a partner in the fight improve population health.  

The value of professional development is well-recognized, and it is important to act on it. Seek out conferences and professional development opportunities that support your work, but also may challenge what you think you know about your role. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn that can make a sustainable impact. Take time to learn.

References

Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health. (2013, September 6). Public Health Trends and Redesigned Education. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/aspph-wp-production/app/uploads/2015/02/BlueRibbon-FinalRptforFTFSitein2015.pdf

Fraser, M., Castrucci, Brian, & Harper, E. (2017, January/February). Public Health Leadership and Management in the Era of Public Health 3.0. Journal of Public Health Management, 23(1), 90-92. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000527

The Prevention Research Center at St. Louis. (2018). Putting Evidence to Work for Health: How Health Departments can Encourage Evidence-Based Decision Making. Retrieved from https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/sites.wustl.edu/dist/3/262/files/2018/07/EBDM-Report-May2018-V4-1z47616.pdf

Yphantides, N., Escoboza, S., & Macchione, N. (2015, February). Leadership in Public Health: New Competencies for the Future. Frontiers in Public Health, 3 (24). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341427/