Certification & Public Health

Certification is Critical to the Public Health Profession

If you are visiting this website, most likely you will agree that public health is one of the most important and exciting professions. No other field has as much impact on the health and wellbeing of people as public health. The field of public health added 25 years to the public’s lifespan in the 20th century through achievements such as increased sanitation, vaccinations, promotion of public health policies and better surveillance and testing. Yet, public health is often underfunded and underprioritized, at least until the next crisis comes along.

Nearly all professions have a certification process which validates the key knowledge and skills needed to work in the profession. Certification is an expected part of practice for accountants (CPA), physicians (board certified specialties), nurses ( specialties and advanced practice), social workers (licensure), and the myriad of other professionals which have a variety of certification programs.

The vision of the founders of the NBPHE is that certification will professionalize the field of public health, which means public health will be recognized by others as its own specialty . Public health should be thought of as distinct from clinical health professions and as the primary profession when it comes to community health and societal solutions to complex issues. While public health will always welcome interdisciplinary partners, the function of public health should be distinct unto itself. No matter the educational or professional background of public health professionals, they will be united with a public health certification built on common body of knowledge that defines the profession of public health. That’s why NBPHE exists.

Common rationales for certification programs include:

  • Protecting the public’s interests
  • Creating a common body of knowledge across the profession
  • Encouraging certificants to pursue continuing education
  • Differentiating between certified and non-certified individuals
  • Assisting employers in making hiring decisions

The Start of NBPHE

In June 2000, Sommer and Akhter penned an editorial, It’s Time We Became a Profession. They described the need to align the public health profession with core competencies and values common to all public health professionals and outlined the vision of a task force assembled by the American Public Health Association and the Association of Schools of Public Health. They said: “Once it is clear that public health is a defined and organized profession, visibility, respect, and compensation of the public health workforce should all increase. So should the profession’s impact on policy and legislation, in a voice more audible and coherent than ever before.”

Though this idea seemed ambitious, given the multidisciplinary nature of a professional of public health, ASPH and APHA created an APHA/ASPH Task Force on Public Health Workforce Credentialing. After receiving encouragement from both the APHA and ASPH Executive Boards, the Task Force reached out to other stakeholders in the credentialing process and became the Steering Committee on Public Health Workforce Credentialing. Extensive planning discussions were held with ASPH, APTR, APHA, ASTHO, and NACCHO.

In 2005, the NBPHE was created as the independent certification organization for the public health profession.

Public health professionals must stay at the forefront of their field. This involves understanding interactions between specialized areas, learning new disaster response strategies, and staying ahead of threats. Public health certification helps public health professionals achieve these goals.

– Allison Foster, President NBPHE
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