Putting Health Education on the Public Health Map in Canada-The Role of Higher Education

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The health education profession has developed over recent years garnering national and international attention. Canada's evolving health education perspective emphasizing the concept of health literacy within the broader public health system reflects the need for trained, competent and skilled health educators designing, implementing and evaluating health-related programs. Higher education can play an important role in moving forward the health education process bridging research and practice. Capacity building in the health education and promotion workforce requires engagement from university systems, their collaborators, and participating students interested in improving the health of individuals, communities, and nations. This article provides: (1) illustration for the need for health education in higher education to move the practice of public health forward in Canada, (2) rationale for embedding greater emphasis on the health education perspective and process within Canadian academe, and (3) responses for future directions throughout health education practice for health educators entering the public health workforce in Canada and beyond.

INTRODUCTION

Health education is an emerging and evolving field in Canada, which highlights the need for designing, implementing and evaluating health-related programs by skilled practitioners and professionals. The role of higher education through the lens of health education has the potential to emphasize the importance of processes involved in bridging research and practice. Developing professional and competent health-related practitioners contributes to capacity building in the health education and promotion workforce. From a local, provincial/territorial, national and international perspective implementing health education within higher education is a path worth exploring further to move the field of public health practice forward within Canada and beyond.

This paper explores the role that higher education can play in facilitating the important health education process needed to move the public health field forward in Canada. Specifically, this paper provides: (1) illustration of the need for health education in higher education to move the practice of public health forward in Canada, (2) rationale for embedding greater emphasis on the health education perspective and process within Canadian academe, and (3) responses for future directions throughout health education practice for health educators entering the workforce in Canada and abroad.

Problem Statement

Housing health education in Canada's higher education can play a critical role in moving the practice of public health forward. According to a report released in Canada regarding our public health workforce:

   There are few dedicated public health
   education and continuing education
   programs. The graduate programs that
   do exist tend to focus on epidemiology
   and research skills, so many graduates
   go into research rather than public health
   practice. Those who do practice public
   health feel their training has not prepared
   them adequately. (1(p.2))

Furthermore, according to the report, there are a large number of public health professionals who lack specialized training and competencies in public health, a high percentage of vacant public health positions, an unbalanced distribution of resources between and within jurisdictions for public health issues, and a lack of capacity to respond to the latest and evolving health issues. (1) In addition, new public health issues often necessitate new program responses with little attention to the capacities needed to target these new issues and the impacts they will have on existing programs.

Health literate practitioners: a Canadian priority. Higher education can contribute to the preparation of skilled, health literate individuals who have the capacity to respond to the health issues of the 21st century. …