important for gathering information from the community about their health concerns as well as delivering and even “marketing” health information to the public. Because the responsibilities of public health agencies cover all aspects of health, public health officials are in a unique position to provide timely, accurate health-related information to the public on a wide variety of topics, ranging from depression and other mental health issues to obesity and physical activity, environmental health and safety, emergency preparedness, and policies that affect health or health outcomes.
However, few public health agencies have staff members who are trained to interact effectively with the public and to work effectively with the news media. In fact, the most recent examination of the public health workforce indicated that 575 individuals in the public health workforce have the expertise to be classified in the category of “Public Relations/ Media Specialist” (HRSA, 2000). Of these 575 people, most are working in DHHS and other federal health agencies. Of the others, 115 are working in state and territorial public health agencies and 12 are working in voluntary agencies (HRSA, 2000).
Given the tremendous potential of the mass media and evolving information technologies, such as the Internet, to influence the knowledge, normative beliefs, and behavior patterns of individuals and groups, governmental public health agencies must be prepared to use these communication tools. The public health workforce must have sufficient expertise in communications to be able to engage diverse audiences with public health information and messages and to work with the media to ensure the accuracy of the health-related information they convey to the public. For example, public health officials can develop relationships with journalists and assist them in accurately representing health risks and interpreting the significance of new research findings so that reporting on public health issues is accurate and members of the public can make informed decisions about protecting their health.
For these reasons, the committee finds that communication skills and competencies are crucial to the effective performance of the 10 essential public health services and the practice of public health at the federal, state, and local levels. Therefore, the committee recommends that all partners within the public health system place special emphasis on communication as a critical core competency of public health practice. Governmental public health agencies at all levels should use existing and emerging tools (including information technologies) for effective management of public health information and for internal and external communication. To be effective, such communication must be culturally appropriate and suitable to the literacy levels of the individuals in the communities they serve. To build this capacity in the public health workforce, communications skills and competencies should be included in the curricula of all workforce