The “most distinctive role of public health education lies in the preparation of public health professionals” (Fineberg et al., 1994). Because of the critical role of education in preparing public health professionals to function effectively, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) convened the Committee on Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century that, concurrent with the work of the Committee on Assuring the Health of the Public in the 21st Century, has conducted an in-depth examination of the future needs of public health professional education and developed a framework and recommendations for how, over the next 5 to 10 years, education, training, and research in programs and schools of public health can be strengthened to prepare future public health professionals to improve population health.
Given the in-depth examination and analysis of public health education that was undertaken by the IOM Committee on Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century, the present report will not go into detail about the future of public health education but, rather, will briefly describe the kinds of degree and professional development programs available, discusses the current workforce and its training needs, identifies problems and barriers to providing public health education, and makes recommendations for maximizing academia’s contributions to the education of the current and future public health workforce.
People who work as professionals in the public health system receive their education and training in a wide range of disciplines and in diverse academic settings, including schools of public health, medicine, nursing, dentistry, social work, allied health professions, pharmacy, law, public administration, veterinary medicine, engineering, environmental sciences, biology, microbiology, and journalism.
The master of public health (MPH) is the basic professional degree traditionally earned by public health workers, but many college graduates who work in public health are educated in other health professions. For example, nurses make up about 10.9 percent of the total public health workforce, whereas physicians comprise about 1.3 percent (HRSA, 2000a). The doctor of public health (DrPH) is offered for advanced training in public health leadership. Individuals with academic degrees (e.g., a master of science or doctorate) in the public health disciplines such as epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health services and administration, nutrition, and the social and behavioral sciences also may be found in the larger state and local public health agencies and in the health care delivery system.
The 32 accredited schools of public health, along with the 45 accredited MPH programs, supply the bulk of public health graduates. The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH), the organization that represents accredited schools of public health, reports that in 1998–1999, the 29