May 02, 2023
I see public health in everything. However, I have always struggled to describe it, or what I do, succinctly. I am not a doctor or an architect or an engineer. And yet, I work to create conditions and build environments where people can achieve health and wellbeing. Sometimes I work in response to a specific or urgent need, but often I focus on what can be done upstream to help prevent issues before they start.
Public health is everything around us, and as COVID-19 has made explicitly clear, there is much work to be done: to improve the social and structural determinants of health, to reduce health disparities, and to improve preventative health outcomes. However, for decades, investment in public health systems and the workforce has declined. There are gaps to fill, and urgent, systematic, and sustained change is needed.
Throughout my career, I have been interested in, and have expanded my focus on, the importance of the public health workforce and its development: what the workforce comprises, the essential roles it fills, what supports efficacy, and how we, collectively, get there.
As a non-academic practitioner, I explored this need and sought to be a part of the change by working to augment workforce capacities in my day-to-day work. More recently, as someone responsible for public health curriculum and the development of the workforce of the future, I strive to be aware of what needs and gaps exist in the workforce, and how we can close those gaps.
Research had suggested that there has been a disconnect between the people working to develop public health practitioners — schools and programs of public health — and the places that need a skilled and competent public health workforce, such as state and county departments of health. But in the last 10 years, many initiatives have sought to elucidate some of the root causes, generate actionable data and guidance, and create a time and a place where real change could be seeded.
In this regard, the de Beaumont Foundation’s work has been of real interest to me, including their efforts to highlight the importance of strategic skills within the public health workforce, and priority areas for focus, via the Public Health Workforce Needs and Interest Survey (PH WINS). So, when the Foundation invited me to be a part of the Founders Committee for the National Consortium for Public Health Workforce Development, I was interested in the opportunity share my perspectives, to learn with and from others, and to develop meaningful collaborations for collective action.
The Founders Committee reflected on the great work that has been done over the last decade, and is currently being done, and asked: How can we unite the many leaders and multiple initiatives working to advance the capacity of the public health workforce? How can we identify how different efforts complement each other, and what could happen in lockstep to help advance each other? How can we help push each other forward, as opposed to doing great work — but in an uncoordinated fashion?
We considered a number of different models for collaborative change, but ultimately identified the potential that a collective impact model could bring, as a strategy to guide the work of the National Consortium. The collective impact model recognizes that one group alone doesn’t have the ability to lead sustained change that overcomes the status quo, but that such change occurs via the development of coalitions, a shared vision, and a commitment to accountability. With resources, stewardship, and collaboration, change is led from the ground up.
I’ve worked with the collective impact model in the past, and from experience, know that one of the most significant catalysts for collective impact is urgency. That is a good descriptor of the public health needs our nation faces today. That urgency impacted our work on the Founders Committee, and now, I look forward to being a part of the change that the National Consortium can facilitate.
Jan 19, 2023