Public Health Credentialing Effort Hopes to Raise Professional Bar
Krisberg, Kim, The Nation's Health
THE diversity of educational backgrounds among public health workers can be both a blessing and a curse: It reflects the broad range of skills needed in building a comprehensive public health infrastructure, but it also means the field's work force is often viewed as lacking the full scope of public health fundamentals that often attracts greater recognition, better compensation and, in turn, more workers. However, efforts are now under way to fill that void.
After years of work, the National Board of Public Health Examiners was launched in 2005 with the aim of credentialing graduates of accredited public health schools and programs. If work continues as planned, a voluntary national credentialing exam will be offered for the first time in the summer of 2008 to masters and doctoral graduates of accredited schools and programs of public health. The exam will help ensure that no matter a worker's particular public health interest, she or he will be well-versed in public health's core competencies, according to the board.
"I'm hoping that credentialing is one of the important steps toward raising the standards for the public health profession," said Walter Tsou, MD, MPH, APHA's immediate past president as well as the Association's representative to the National Board of Public Health Examiners. "(Public health) is so broad. We're everything from animal bites to microbiology to community empowerment to safe sidewalks ... and that's part of the reason why it's so hard for us to write a public health test."
Standardizing public health work force requirements is a substantial undertaking, which is why the board decided to first focus on graduates from accredited schools and programs, according to Charles Mahan, MD, president of the National Board of Public Health Examiners. The board not only has representatives from APHA, but also the Association of Schools of Public Health, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine and National Association of County and City Health Officials.
"It's not an easy thing to do to come up with a fair exam for public health because we're so diverse," Mahan told The Nation's Health.
The credentialing exam now being developed will cover five core public health competencies: epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, social and behavioral health, and health policy and management; as well as seven cross-cutting competencies: communications and informatics, diversity and culture, leadership, public health biology, professionalism, program planning and systems thinking. The exam is not meant to replace more specialized tests, such as the certified health educator specialist exam.
Credentialing is also different from the accreditation process that schools and programs undergo through the Council on Education for Public Health. While school accreditation assures students receive a quality public health education, the process doesn't go "very deeply" into curriculum specifics, Mahan noted. Being credentialed, however, tells a potential employer that an applicant is knowledgeable in core public health competencies, he said, adding that credentialing may also encourage more real-life public health practice experience and education before graduation.
And even though the five core competencies are often taught in all schools of public health, the seven "cross-cutters" aren't taught as thoroughly, said APHA member Terry Dwelle, MD, MPHTM, chair of the board's Testing Quality Committee and a state health officer in North Dakota. As a result, credentialing could help bring the standard of training in public health schools to a new level, he said. …