This descriptive study describes the development of a public health training institute through statewide public health improvement planning. Efforts to design workforce development strategies in a rural setting with a decentralized state public health system are portrayed. Significant lessons learned in developing the training institute and other workforce development strategies are outlined.
When Montana first set out to improve its public health system in the mid-1990s, it was not with workforce training in mind. Rather, the focus was decidedly outward. Wanting to shed the sense of invisibility felt during the health care reform debates, Montana's public health reformers simply wanted policy makers and citizens to make note of the value and role of its public health system and to provide adequate funding for it. It was, and remains, a valid goal. But after relatively unsuccessful attempts to dazzle the public with tales of the importance of public health, the newly created Montana Public Health Improvement Task Force realized one immediate problem that demanded a more inward focus: the public health workforce's own lack of understanding of the broader public health system and the workforce's inadequate and inconsistent public health training. With new insight, the task force called for a systematic, planned approach to improving the state's public health workforce, and the Montana Public Health Training Institute came into being. This is the story of its making.
This article describes Montana's initial efforts to advance its public health infrastructure through a public health improvement planning process and core functions review and its subsequent work in strategically examining the broader public health system. Finally, the article addresses the planning and designing of a training institute for Montana's public health workforce. Montana's experiences may be useful for other public health practitioners as they work with policy makers, educators in schools of public health, state officials, and community partners in developing workforce development initiatives. Lessons can be learned about developing strategic state, regional, and national alliances in implementing public health improvement planning efforts.