Assessing the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities of Public Health Professionals in Big City Governmental Health Departments

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Abstract

Objective:

To identify essential knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) for and characterize gaps in KSAs of professionals working in large, urban health departments.

Design:

A survey was disseminated to potentially eligible supervisors within 26 of 28 health departments in the largest, most urban jurisdictions in the country. A supervisor was eligible to participate if he or she supervised at least 1 staff member whose highest level of education was a master's degree.

Setting and Participants:

A total of 645 eligible supervisors participated in the workforce survey for a response rate of 27.1% and cooperation rate of 55.2%.

Main Outcome Measure(s):

Supervisors were asked to rate the importance of KSAs to their masters-level staffs' work and indicate their staffs' proficiency.

Results:

Fifty-eight percent of supervisors reported supervising staff with a master of public health/master of science in public health degree. More than 30% of supervisors indicated that all of the 30 KSAs were essential. Four of the top 10 KSAs rated as essential by supervisors pertained to the ability to communicate. The top skills gaps perceived by supervisors were professional staffs' ability to apply quality improvement concepts to their work (38.0%), understanding of the political system (37.7%), and ability to anticipate changes (33.8%).

Conclusions:

Public health practitioners receive training in methods, theories, and evidence-based approaches, yet further investment in the workforce is necessary to advance population health. A focus should be placed developing strategic skills rather than advancing narrow specialties. Findings from this research can guide the creation and implementation of training curricula and professional development programs offered within local health departments or targeted to their staff, as well as satisfaction of accreditation requirements. By focusing on building strategic skills, we can ensure a public health workforce that is equipped with the KSAs necessary to practice Public Health 3.0 and leaders who are able to serve as their communities' chief health strategists.

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