Certification of Public Health Workers

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Since public health has such a broad scope, public health workers need many different skills. Most public health workers, however, have not been trained to deal with the problems they will face in the twenty-first century. The types of knowledge needed for the practice of public health include: 1) basic competency, which provides a fundamental understanding of what public health is, what public health does, and how public health achieves its mission; 2) cross-cutting, or core competencies, which provide general knowledge, skills, and abilities in areas that cut across all dimensions of public health practice; and 3) technical competencies, which provide the technical knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for a defined program area. Most training and continuing education provided by federal agencies focus on the development of technical competencies, but few courses are offered that provide basic or crosscutting competencies.

Many additional barriers exist to achieving a competent work force. There is no firm agreement on the basic knowledge needed for public health workers. An integrated system to deliver lifelong learning does not exist, and there are few incentives for participation in training. Continuing education and national competency standards, which could positively influence participation in lifelong learning activities, do not exist for public health workers.

Certification means providing some external validation that a worker has knowledge in a given area. Many public health experts have taken the position that a competency certification is needed to assure minimum levels of knowledge in certain areas of public health practice and that certification should be required for certain jobs. A national task force, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in the year 2000 that a system for the certification of public health workers be developed.

Ray M. Nicola

(see also: Careers in Public Health; Engineer, Public Health Career; Nurse; Physician; Training for Public Health )


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2000). CDC/ATSDR "A Report of the Task Force on Public Health Workforce Development (Draft)." Strategic Plan for Public Health Workforce Development. Atlanta, GA: Author.