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Public Health Workforce Training and Development: Tips for Leaders

April 14, 2024

Public health innovations are credited with fostering a 25-year increase in life expectancy during the 20th century, but the work of public health leaders is far from over. Today’s leaders face challenges that range from attaining health equity across populations to adequately preparing for future pandemics.

For the public health workforce to be equipped to meet these challenges, staff members must receive comprehensive training. Without a well-trained workforce, public health agencies will be unable to provide essential services to meet the needs of the communities they serve. That is why ongoing professional development and education are essential for today’s public health workforce. 

Education and Training for the Public Health Workforce

Public health leaders are responsible for a wide variety of research, policy, and management tasks. Among their most important duties is recruiting, training, and developing a qualified public health workforce. Colleges and universities help in this effort by offering comprehensive programs in public health for professionals such as:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Educators
  • Health advocates
  • Epidemiologists
  • Researchers
  • Policy professionals

Professionals who complete these programs have the academic knowledge required to work in public health. However, no individual program can teach all of the skills needed to make an impact on public health. 

Colleges with public health programs also help meet the continuing training needs of the public health workforce. Requirements vary by state, but all public health professionals must complete continuing education (CE) courses. In many states, public health workers are expected to complete some CE every year to stay abreast of new trends, methods, and best practices in the field.

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Tips for Developing an Effective Public Health Workforce

Public health leaders are responsible for promoting ongoing skills training for the public health workforce. Ongoing staff training is essential for the stability and security of any public health agency. Leaders can use a variety of methods to strengthen their workforce and encourage employees to remain passionate about public health. 

Foster Strategic-Thinking Skills

Today’s public health workforce must be able to think strategically. Everyone working in public health must understand how different policies and actions are likely to affect the populations they serve. Strategic thinking leads to smart decisions that can positively impact the quality of public health programs and a community’s overall health. 

Focus on Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is about understanding how policies in areas other than health care can affect the health of people in a given population. For example, reductions in food assistance programs can lead to higher rates of malnutrition and childhood hunger. To effectively serve the people in their communities, public health workers need to recognize these connections between government policies and community members’ health. 

Public health leaders should take the time to explain the potential health impacts of new policies to their staff. Leaders should model the systems thinking skills they want their staff to have. 

Support Strong Communication Skills 

The public health workforce has a unique opportunity to drive the implementation of initiatives that will improve the health of the people in their communities. Building a rapport with members of a community requires strong communication skills. Public health professionals who can communicate clearly and respectfully with a diverse group of people are poised for success. 

Individuals want clear, easy-to-understand explanations of the public health risks in their communities and their mitigation strategies. Understanding how to communicate in everyday language is essential for the public health workforce. 

Increase Cultural Competence

Public health professionals who are culturally competent understand the barriers to care that members of certain communities face and the experiences that frame their understanding of health initiatives and other programs. Culturally competent professionals can use what they know to encourage these individuals to make positive changes without disregarding their beliefs and values.

Developing cultural competence requires both training and practice. Public health leaders should provide ongoing education about cultural concerns. They should be sure to provide their workforce with training modules that allow them to develop culturally sensitive communication skills and knowledge. 

Prioritize Equity in Hiring

The demographics of any public health workforce should reflect the demographics of the communities they serve. Leaders should focus on equity when hiring staff to ensure that individuals from different backgrounds are included. Hiring diverse public health employees can help increase the public’s confidence in the organization.

Public health agencies that focus on diversity in hiring are able to anticipate the unique needs and health problems of different populations. Employees from diverse backgrounds bring new perspectives, which can lead to more creative solutions to problems and a better understanding of how communities will react to health programs. This allows agencies to provide timely, meaningful programs that speak to each community’s needs. 

Introduce Opportunities to Improve Skills at All Career Levels

Many public health professionals are eager to advance in their careers. Public health leaders should provide regular training that helps staff members advance their skills. Leaders can conduct some training on their own, but they may need to send employees to outside classes as well. 

Skills enhancement and advancement opportunities are important because they strengthen the public health workforce. Regular training both increases workers’ competence and helps mitigate burnout. 

Learn How to Guide the Public Health Workforce of the Future 

Guiding the public health workforce into the future demands both skill and drive. Are you ready to take the leap and become a more effective public health leader? 

Learn more about the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine’s Online Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Leadership, Advocacy, and Equity program today. Find out how you can build the competencies necessary to thrive as a public health leader in this completely online program offered by the nation’s first school of public health.  

Advance Your Public Health Career with a DrPH in Leadership, Advocacy & Equity

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings 

The Role of Leadership in Public Health Advocacy

Effective Leadership in Public Health: Essential Skills

DrPH vs. PhD: What’s the Difference?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Workforce Development

JMIR Formative Research, “Valuing Diversity and Inclusion in Health Care to Equip the Workforce: Survey Study and Pathway Analysis”

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, “Public Health Workforce Development During and Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings From a Qualitative Training Needs Assessment”

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, “Understanding the Dynamics of Diversity in the Public Health Workforce”

Public Health Accreditation Board, Transforming the Public Health Workforce