The Importance of Publications by Public Health Practitioners: A New Tool
At the recent American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, the importance of practitioner authorship was discussed at length with the editors, our publisher, and editorial board member Brian Castrucci of the de Beaumont Foundation (a sponsor of the journal). All agreed that encouraging practitioners to publish is key to advancing the field of public health and is one of the primary objectives of The Journal of Public Health Management & Practice (JPHMP).
To reflect on progress toward this objective, an analysis of first authorship of articles published in JPHMP during the 3-year period 2015-2017 was undertaken. During this time frame, 268 articles were published (excluding columns, editorials, commentaries, and articles published in supplements). The analysis revealed that 88 of those articles published (33%) had practitioners as first authors. Of the remaining articles, the majority were authored by academics. Further breaking down the practitioner-authored articles, 51 were from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (58%), 17 were from state health departments (19%), and 20 from local health departments (22%). The majority of the local health department contributions came from large municipal public health agencies including New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
However, this analysis is an underestimation of practitioner authorship because in a substantial number of articles with a first author from academia, there were coauthors active in practice at state and local public health agencies. In addition, many of the supplemental issues published during this time period had practitioner authorship. For instance, the September/October 2017 supplement “Environmental Public Health Tracking,” sponsored by the CDC, included 10 articles written by authors employed by state or local health departments. Another similar supplement on environmental tracking was published in 2015, with 11 practitioner-authored articles. Other supplements during this time featured a significant number of articles written by practitioners or staff representing the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO).
Although this analysis shows achievement, we recognize the need to continue to enhance efforts to foster practitioner authorship and to that end a “Toolkit for Scientific Writing” was developed in 2015, when the editors, working with staff from Cerus Consulting, LLC (cerusconsulting.org), fulfilled a contract with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists to build an aid to authors. This toolkit can be found on that organization's Web site (cste.org).1 A major component of the toolkit focuses on how to develop mechanisms to encourage and recognize publications. Creating a “publishing culture” within the workplace is recommended. A publishing culture is an environment that fosters and rewards the writing of scientific articles. This culture provides positive encouragement and direct benefits to practitioners and the field. Public health departments also reap benefits from the establishment of a publishing culture—the actual work product is improved through the documentation of evidence-based policies and visibility for agency accomplishments.
To examine the nature of a publication culture, the editor of JPHMP conducted a series of interviews with practitioner-authors at local, state, and federal public health agencies. Those interviews revealed that the most important factor fostering a publishing environment is encouragement by senior practitioners, supervisors, or agency heads for this activity.
Daily activities by practitioners can actually be fertile grounds for beginning to collect data that ultimately can result in publication.