The Public Health Competency Handbook:

K A Tool to Help You
Translate Training into
Organizational Action

Core Competencies

Over a decade has passed since the Public HealthFaculty/Agency Forum1 was published in response to critical concerns raised in the landmark report, The Future of Public Health.2  Workforce preparation in terms of defined competencies became a focus of discussion, research and consensus-building among academicians and practitioners.  Some efforts attempted to define competency sets in terms of graduate professional education, practice-oriented training and continuing education for specific job skills, functional levels or practice settings.3

In 1997 the Council of Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice was charged with continuing the work of the Public Health Functions Project that had used the Essential Public Health Services as a framework for identifying public health workforce competencies.4  The Council on Linkages document, Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals,5 appeared in April 2001 and is being used to guide education and training initiatives sponsored by both academic and practice partners.

Coordinated Organizational Action

We often hear that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In no context is this “wisdom” more critical than in public health—whether we are referring to teams, units, programs, agencies, or systems.  But how do we optimize education and training efforts so that they enhance performance, coordinated action, and improved health outcomes?

The Public Health Competency Handbook: Optimizing Individual and Organizational Performance for the Public’s Health was developed by academic and practice partners to provide tools to translate individual competency development efforts into enhanced organizational performance.  The handbook uses cross-cutting competency areas to unite organization “parts” into a synergistic “whole”—a public health organization providing the essential public health services in collaboration with public health system partners.   

The Handbook complements workforce development efforts by presenting a framework (with tools and practice-tested strategies) to infuse the organizational culture of public health with concepts intrinsic to creating “the learning organization” with a workforce of life-long learners.6  It also provides a user-friendly reference for managers/supervisors to use within units or programs to create a learning environment across organizational levels and skill and program areas.


1 Sorenson AA and Bialek R. The Public Health Faculty Agency Forum: Linking Graduate Education and Practice—Final Report.  Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1993.

2 Institute of Medicine.  The Future of Public Health.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1988.

3 See “Competencies of Public Health Workers: A Collection of Competency Sets of Public Health –Related Occupations and Professions” in Institute of Medicine.  Who Will Keep the Public Healthy? Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2003.

4 See The Public Health Workforce: An Agenda for the 21st Century.  Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, 1997.

5 See

6 See p. 201 in Potter MA, Barron G, and Cioffi JP. A model for public health workforce development using the National Public Health Performance Standards Program. J Public Health Management Practice, 2003 9(3), 199-207.

Description of the Handbook

The Public Health Competency Handbook is the first hands-on guide that outlines the critical organizational competencies required for improvements in the delivery of the Essential Public Health Services by public health agencies and local public health system partners.

The 276-page handbook is designed to facilitate the creation of an organizational culture that supports learning across organizational levels and programmatic areas. The 3-ring binder, with color-coded sections and accompanying CD, contains field-tested, easy to use forms, exercises, and learning tools; comprehensive appendices and references. Sidebars throughout the book translate concepts into real world applications and issues for discussion.

Handbook Table
of Contents

Included CD Table of Contents

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Jane C. Nelson, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Joyce D.K. Essien, M.D., M.B.A.

Richard Loudermilk

Daniel Cohen

About the Authors