The Affiliate Council is a standing committee of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), comprising 21 legally separate professional associations representing state public health workers. The council serves as a forum for these affiliates to communicate, coordinate activities, and collaborate around shared issues and the collective need for developing the capacity of the state public health workforce. For several years, the affiliates have worked cooperatively to address public health workforce development, including supporting the development and dissemination of the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS). Representatives of the Affiliate Council participated in the ASTHO/de Beaumont Foundation–sponsored summit that identified topics for PH WINS as well as on the technical expert panel that guided the development of and planning for the survey. Affiliates alerted their members to the release of the survey and encouraged them to participate if they received an invitation.
Through the Affiliate Council's Workforce Development Workgroup—intended to strengthen cross-affiliate communication—affiliates regularly identify and advance joint goals related to public health workforce development and share information about professional development courses, trainings, seminars, and other offerings. Among the existing crosscutting workforce development opportunities, we identified was a multiday, multicourse training from the Directors of Health Promotion and Education on how to engage in policy, environment, and systems change approaches to public health. PH WINS data revealed that while 73% of those at the executive level considered “influencing policy development” a very important skill, only 25% of those at the nonsupervisory level and 52% at the manager level considered this very important.1 , 2 This finding suggests that using policy approaches for systems change might be undervalued and underused in public health and underscores the need for training public health workers at varying levels of the organizational hierarchy on how to engage in systems and policy approaches to public health.
Another PH WINS finding is that 69% of respondents considered as “very important” the ability to communicate ideas and information in a way that different audiences can understand; most felt they had such skills and could engage partners outside health departments on projects (61% reported being “proficient” or “expert”). However, 20% of individuals who identify themselves as working in programs that deal with “noncommunicable disease” report they are unable to communicate in a way that persuades others to act, or are at a beginner level, as are 18% of those who work in health promotion/wellness.
PH WINS data also revealed that nearly 1 in 5 survey respondents rate themselves as a beginner or are unable to address the needs of diverse communities in a culturally sensitive way, although almost half (48%) considered the ability to do so very important. Finding ways to enhance cross-cultural communication skills will facilitate this. In 2015, the National Public Health Information Coalition, an affiliate composed of individuals who shape, spread, or help understand the impact of a public health message introduced its Certified Communicator in Public Health credential. The National Public Health Information Coalition's Certified Communicator in Public Health program calls upon public health communicators to—among other competencies—“influence individuals and communities by using media, community resources, and social marketing techniques” and, along with related cultural competence skills, “respect a wide range of differences among intended audiences.”
The latter correlates to the PH WINS skill: “Addressing the needs of diverse communities in a culturally sensitive way.” Sixty percent of respondents who self-identify as public information specialists said this skill is very important, but nearly 27% also said they were either at the beginner level or unable to do this at all. For public health managers/program managers, the numbers are 61% and 20.4%, respectively, indicating that continued professional development is essential in this area. Persuasive communication is an underpinning of “precaution advocacy,” that is, public health efforts directed toward lifestyle choices and behavior change that reduce the risk of illness, injury, or premature death.
Since the inception of the Affiliate Council, the affiliates have contributed significantly to the professionalism of the public health workforce through trainings, competency and credentialing programs, mentorship and leadership development, and other skill development efforts. PH WINS data provide guidance and focus for continued development, including areas of need on which we, as the Affiliate Council, can collaborate to help our members working in state health agencies across program areas meet current and future public health demands.
The urgent need for public health workforce development to meet the changing demands of public health practice has been well documented and discussed over the last few decades. PH WINS data provide an opportunity to move past our discussions by identifying high-priority areas for training and education needed within the current workforce. Federal, state, and local governments, foundations, ASTHO, and affiliates must prioritize and collaborate to meet these needs now, as well as those that will be identified in the future.
1. Leider JP, Bharthapudi K, Pineau V, Liu L, Harper E. The Methods Behind PH WINS. J Public Heal Manag Pract. 2015;21(suppl 6):S28–S35.
2. Kaufman NJ, Castrucci BC, Pearsol J, et al. Thinking beyond the silos: emerging priorities in workforce development for state and local government public health agencies. J Public Heal Manag Pract. 2014;20(6):557–565.