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Competencies: A Roadmap for Professional Development

Competencies, or skill sets, have many practical applications. The CDC’s Public Health Law Program recently used them to improve their public health law training.

Competencies, or skill sets, have many practical applications. The CDC’s Public Health Law Program recently used them to improve their public health law training.

December 22, 2014

The legal duties and responsibilities of public health practitioners and their counsel are many and varied. They can range from collecting routine health data and proposing safety standards to closing restaurants and ordering quarantines. As a public health educator or manager, how would you decide which skills your trainees or employees would need to effectively perform these jobs?

The CDC’s Public Health Law Program faced this same question when developing training for public health practitioners working in state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments. They turned to the idea of “competency mapping” and the expertise of the NWCPHP evaluation team and ChangeLab Solutions as they approached their work.

“Our goal was to produce a set of broadly accepted, law-related competencies for public health practitioners and their legal counsel,” said Public Health Law Program Manager, Montrece Ransom, JD, MPH.

Competencies are sets of applied skills and knowledge that enable someone to perform their job. In a practical sense, they can provide a professional development roadmap for employees. They are also useful for creating position descriptions and training plans, and addressing accreditation standards focused on workforce development.

In early 2013, the CDC Public Health Law Program convened a workgroup of legal professionals to create the public health law competency model project. They began by cataloging skills sets in two areas, also known as domains: Foundational Public Health Law and Interventional Public Health Law.

The Foundational Public Health Law domain includes competency statements related to public health authority and sources of law, and includes knowledge about seeking legal advice. The Interventional Public Health Law domain includes knowledge of law-based tools and resources used by public health officials to promote and protect the public’s health.

After inventorying the necessary skills and abilities in these two areas, the workgroup began planning to ensure that new trainings could be mapped back to the lists.

NWCPHP Associate Director and Lead Evaluator, Luann D’Ambrosio, MEd, explained why this is important: “Using competencies helps improve the consistency of trainings, ensuring all practitioners are given the same information. From a big picture perspective, this helps us have a more cohesive workforce and more standardized services around the country,” she said.

The Law Program worked with public health training experts at ChangeLab Solutions and NWCPHP to help validate their competency model and their methods for mapping desired skill sets to trainings. To do this, NWCPHP evaluated two in-person trainings— Public Health Law 101 for Local Health Officials, and Legal and Policy Approaches to Reducing Prescription Drug Overdose—and interviewed curriculum developers and content experts.

Evaluation results revealed the CDC Public Health Law Program’s efforts were a success, allowing them to effectively tailor future trainings to concrete, standardized skills.

Interested in using competencies when developing your next employee training or presentation? Contact Luann D’Ambrosio, MEd and the NWCPHP evaluation team for assistance.

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