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Who Will Keep the Public Healthy?: Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century
als who understand that public health research must focus not only on secondary prevention and risk factor analysis, but also on evaluation of public health systems, on practice approaches and interventions, and on effective collaborations and partnerships with diverse communities.
Public health professionals of the future will need to understand and be able to use the new information systems that provide the data upon which public health research and practice is based. They will need to be able to communicate with diverse populations, to understand the issues, concerns, and needs of these groups in order to work collaboratively to improve population health. Public health professionals must have the skills and competencies necessary to engage in public health practice at many levels: leadership, management, and supervisory.
The committee reaffirms the importance of the traditional core public health areas of epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health services administration, and social and behavioral sciences. However, the committee believes that public health professionals will be better prepared to address the major health problems and challenges facing society if they achieve competency in the following eight content areas: informatics, genomics, communication, cultural competence, community-based participatory research, global health, policy and law, and public health ethics. These eight areas are now and will continue to be significant to public health and public health education in programs and schools of public health for some time to come. These areas are natural outgrowths of the traditional core public health sciences as they have evolved in response to ongoing social, economic, technological, and demographic changes. For example, community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a contemporary approach to research that has its roots in the public health sciences of epidemiology and biostatistics, enriched by emerging community knowledge from the social and behavioral sciences.
The following sections of this chapter provide an in-depth examination of these eight areas of critical importance to public health education in the 21st century. Competency in each of these areas will enable public health professionals to better function within the ecological model (discussed in Chapter 1), thereby contributing effectively to programs, policies, and research designed to improve the health of the public. For each of these areas we provide a brief definition and description, explore why each is important to public health, examine the minimum level of knowledge or understanding public health professionals should have about each area, and highlight potential ethical issues.
Capacity to perform the public health functions specified in The Future of Public Health (IOM, 1988), namely, assessment, policy development