Departments of Health

Urban departments of health are a primary consumer of the products of health educational programs, i.e., health professionals, and they are also the bodies accountable for the health of urban populations. Thus, they are key stakeholders in the development of the urban health workforce. To date, however, municipal health departments have not had a defined role or a strong voice in professional education. More often, their role has been limited to providing internships, sponsoring continuing education for their employees (Potter, et al., 2003), or helping to coordinate the educational responses to emerging needs, e.g., the HIV epidemic or bioterrorism.

In our view, health departments could play a more central role in the education of urban health professionals, both by contributing more to preservice education, as recommended in the IOM report on the Future of Public Health (Committee on Assuring the Health of the Public, 2003), and by playing a lead role in conducting comprehensive assessments of urban health workforce needs. While local health departments cannot and should not take on this task single handedly, they are the sole agency with accountability for population health and with the mandate and capacity to collect the data needed to identify current and emerging needs. Other stakeholders that need to be involved in such assessments are educational institutions including high schools, community and four-year colleges, research universities and the various health professional training programs, local health care providers, community representatives, and elected officials. The London Health Policy and Research Resources (Health Workforce Policy and Research Resource for London, 2003), described below, provides one example of a collaborative approach to assessing urban health workforce needs.

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