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Who Will Keep the Public Healthy?: Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century Abstract In a world where health threats range from AIDS and bioterrorism to an epidemic of obesity, the need for an effective public health system is as urgent as it has ever been. An effective public health system requires well-educated public health professionals. Public health professionals receive education and training in a wide range of disciplines, come from a variety of professions, work in many types of settings, and are engaged in numerous kinds of activities; however, all public health professionals share a focus on population-level health. The committee developed the following definition, used throughout the report. A public health professional is a person educated in public health or a related discipline who is employed to improve health through a population focus. Many institutional settings play important roles in public health professional education including schools of public health, degree granting programs in public health, medical schools, schools of nursing, other professional schools (e.g., law), and local, state and federal public health agencies. It is important that the education provided by these programs and institutions is based upon an ecological model of health. An ecological model assumes that health and well being are affected by interaction among the multiple determinants of health. Further, it is important that public health professional education include not only the long recognized five core components of public health (i.e., epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health services administration, and social and behavioral science), but that it also encompass eight critical new areas: informatics, genomics, communication, cultural competence, community-based participatory research, policy and
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Who Will Keep the Public Healthy?: Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century law, global health, and ethics. Understanding and being able to apply information and computer science technology to public health practice and learning (i.e., public health informatics) are necessary competencies for public health professionals in this information age in which we are vitally dependent upon data. Genomics is helping us understand the role of genetic factors in leading causes of morbidity in the United States, information that public health professionals must be familiar with to improve health. Public health professionals must be proficient in communication to interact effectively with multiple audiences. They must also be able to understand and incorporate the needs and perspectives of culturally diverse communities in public health interventions and research, and to understand and be able to influence the policies, laws, and regulations that affect health. New approaches to research that involve practitioners, researchers, and the community in joint efforts to improve health are becoming necessary as we recognize the importance of multiple determinants of health, for example, social relationships, living conditions, neighborhoods, and communities. Understanding global health issues is increasingly important as public health professionals are called upon to address problems that transcend national boundaries. Finally, public health professionals must be able to identify and address the numerous ethical issues that arise in public health practice and research. We need high quality public health professionals contributing through practice, teaching, and research to improve health in our communities. This report provides a framework and recommendations for strengthening public health education, research, and practice skills that can be used by the institutions and organizations responsible for educating public health professionals and supporting public health education. Public health professionals’ education and preparedness should be of concern to everyone, for it is well-educated public health professionals who will be able to effectively shape the programs and policies needed to improve population health during the coming century. If we want high quality public health professionals, then we must be willing to provide the support necessary to educate those professionals.
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