Creating a Certified Public Health Professional Designation for Canada’s Public Health Workforce

The report, Building the Public Health Workforce for the 21st Century: A Pan-Canadian Framework for Public Health Human Resources Planning,1 notes that it is important to develop an inter-professional workforce with the public health skills and competencies to meet population health needs. While an inter-professional structure makes up the public health workforce, the reality is that public health in Canada encompasses multiple disciplines which do not necessarily have a direct connection to each other except through an employer, or through knowledge exchange forums such as the CPHA Annual Conference.

Without a common degree for entry to practice and with no license or certification requirements, there is currently no clear means of determining whether an individual is ready to work in the field of public health. In fact, it would seem that “the most common ‘credential’ qualifying someone to work in public health is working in public health,”2  p.206 While some of those currently working in public health have earned a public health degree (MPH), others have no specific credentials that define them as public health practitioners. This lack of designation may make it difficult for the general public to appreciate the knowledge and commitment unique to public health work that extends outside of the disciplinary “silos” (e.g., physicians, nurses, dieticians, etc.). In a 2007 article focusing on certification for public health practitioners and decision makers, Gebbie et al. stated that certification “heighten[s] recognition of public health professionals and increase[s] the overall effectiveness of public health practice.”3

The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) has been funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to undertake a project entitled “Creating a Certified Public Health Professional Designation for Canada’s Public Health Workforce.” The purpose of the project is to pilot test and provide recommendations on the introduction of a national certification program that could be used to support strategies and activities identified by the Joint Task Group on Public Health Human Resources.

Given that so many public health practitioners learn about what public health practice entails through on-the-job experience, it is important that they also have the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of the core competencies.1 Certification not only has the potential to increase recognition of the field of public health, but is expected to enhance overall effectiveness and efficiency within the field by promoting competency-based practice and the maintenance of these competencies in an ever-changing field.

This project will:

  • establish a framework for the implementation of a Certified Public Health Professional (CPHP) designation in Canada;
  • develop a tool to assess the mastery of core competencies of public health;
  • pilot test the certification process; and
  • evaluate its impact and develop recommendations for national implementation of the CPHP.

This project will also ensure that the application and examination tools are strongly linked to the core competencies. It will reinforce public health as a unique and distinct profession and provide a tool for informing the development of the public health workforce in Canada. To achieve this outcome, three objectives have been identified:

  1. Assess the utility of, and support for a public health designation in Canada.
  2. Develop tools (certification application and examination) and a framework to evaluate public health practitioners’ mastery of the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to effectively and efficiently practice public health.
  3. Pilot test the certification process and develop recommendations in collaboration with partners and key stakeholders for implementing this certification at the national level.

Like other health and professional fields, public health knowledge and practices continually evolve, and the past few decades have seen the emergence of new fields in public health that may not yet be well represented in public health education.4 This presents a need for a national process to ensure that competencies are developed in these emerging areas – a need that may be addressed by a certifying body. The implementation of national standards would make public health organizations accountable for ensuring their staff has the appropriate core competencies for this work, and that these competencies are maintained.

This project aims to contribute to the sustainable strengthening of the public health workforce through the increased mastery, application and maintenance of the core competencies of public health.


1
Federal/Provincial/Territorial Joint Task Group on Public Health Human Resources. (2006). Building the Public Health Workforce for the 21st Century. Ottawa. Retrieved November 2011: publications.gc.ca/site/fra/9.687969/publication.html
2
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2011). Skills Online: About the Program. Retrieved November 2011: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/php-psp/ccph-cesp/about_so-apropos_cd-eng.php#be
3
Gebbie K, Goldstein BD, Gregorio DI, Tsou W, Buffler P, Petersen D, Mahan C, Silver GB. (2007). The National Board of Public Health Examiners: Credentialing Public Health Graduates. Public Health Rep, 122(4);435-440: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1888516
4
Health Canada. (2004). Pan-Canadian Public Health Education Initiative: Summary of Three Regional Workshops.