Policy Help Needed, Experience Required: Preparing Practitioners to Effectively Engage in Policy

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Objectives. There is a shift toward a “health in all policies” approach in public health; however, most practitioners are not equipped with the necessary knowledge or skills to engage in and practice policy. This study explores how public health professionals can become policy practitioners and better engage in the policy process. This article also provides recommendations for training programs on how to increase students’ policy-related knowledge and skills. Method. We conducted in-depth interviews with 10 public health policy experts in the United States spanning academic, governmental, advocacy, and practice settings. Key informants provided perspectives regarding strengths and skill sets that practitioners need to better position themselves to do policy-relevant work and opportunities for public health programs to improve training. The research team conducted thematic analyses to determine commonality among expert responses. Results. Informants identified a number of strengths and skills that either support or impede practitioners’ ability to conduct policy work and proposed recommendations for public health curricula to integrate policy-related coursework or practical experiences to prepare practitioners for policy careers. Conclusion. Public health professionals need to become more politically astute to practice and advance public health policy. To facilitate the development of such skills, public health training and pedagogy must integrate policy practice into traditional public health coursework, include new policy-focused courses, and provide opportunities for real-world policy experience.

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