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Public Health Education Accreditation

There is a continuing urgency for both public administration and public health to formulate stronger crosswalks by integrating and coordinating their public functions and core responsibilities. This integration needs to be done on a global scale since public health pandemic hazards expose multiple countries to disease risk at the speed of jet travel. My initial report on this issue was published in PA Times (August, 2009).

One focus for this report is on the current education of public health workers and their professional accreditation. Today, any graduate (MPH or MSPH degrees) from the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH) accredited programs in public health is eligible to sit the certification examination for the Certified in Public Health (CPH) designation. As this professional designation matures, it will potentially create demand in the labor market for a preference for CPH accredited public health workers who are by association graduates of CEPH accredited graduate public health education programs.

In order to receive CEPH accreditation, a school or program in public health must emphasize training in five core competencies: epidemiology, biostatistics, social and behavioral science, environmental science, and health management and policy. Additional training is required in leadership, communications and informatics, diversity and culture, program design and evaluation, ethics, and biology/medicine. The one competency not noted is any exposure to government relations (public administration) even though most public health agencies and departments are under the auspices of local, state, or the federal government.

Public health workers do not have a licensure requirement other than for their subspecialties such as nursing or physician or dentist, etc. Consequently, the CPH designation is not a license to practice although it may soon be perceived as such by the public health labor market. A key problem may be that as of 2012 there are only 132 CEPH accredited public health schools and programs currently in the U.S. and that is only a fraction of the total number of public health programs nationally. This disparity means that a large number of graduates will not be eligible for the CPH designation and may in the future create a shortage of public health workers due to the fact that many people with degrees in public health will not qualify to sit the CPH examination. Indeed, why should employers hire a non-CPH worker, although degreed public health worker, when a CPH designated applicant is in the applicant pool thus reasonably assuring the employer of a certain level of core competence both by reason of graduating from an accredited school or program and passing the rigorous CPH examination.

It is clear that the CPH examination opportunity being tied to the CEPH accreditation status of a student’s graduate program will relegate graduates from unaccredited programs into a second tier employment opportunity when employers seek the CPH designated public health worker as a first priority for hire into public health agency leadership positions even though they may have the same degree and have taken the same core courses. What is unclear is do students who are seeking an educational program in public health know the difference and its potential impact on their future career? Many students may complete a graduate educational program not knowing that given the institution they selected to attend renders them ineligible to sit the CPH examination.

I also surmise that this professional designation should reasonably assure public administrators that in working more closely with public health workers that they will be competent and qualified to counsel on public health issues impacting the community. But, my concerns remain that most public health programs do not expose their graduate students to any aspect of public administration while it is certain that future public health administrators will work in a job heavily influenced, even dominated, by public administration policies and budget constraints. How will new public health administrators cope with an environment with which they have not been adequately prepared by their educational experiences? My graduate students in public administration are exposed to facets of public health by the examples that I present in the classroom (or online); and as well, my graduate public health students get a major dose of public administration by the same mechanism. However, professors who are cross trained in multiple related disciplines are unfortunately fairly rare.

Further, will it ever be the case that public administrators that graduate from accredited MPA Programs will have a similar competency based examination leading to a professional designation thus reasonably assuring their command of core competencies to practice? There are many more schools offering the MPA degree and far fewer of them are NASPPA accredited. Is there a real or perceived educational disparity in public administration education between those programs that are accredited and those that are not? Another critical question is what will it take to encourage a stronger bond between public administration and public health in their common goals of serving the public?


Author: Michael W. Popejoy, M.B.A., Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., FRSPH teaches both graduate public administration and graduate public health and is cross trained with his Ph.D. in public administration and the M.P.H. in public health from a CEPH accredited school of public health. He is currently studying for the CPH examination.


Image courtesy of http://nwhf.org/conversation/comments/aq_accreditation/.


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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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