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Core Competencies Frequently Asked Questions

The Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals (Core Competencies) are a consensus set of foundational skills for the broad practice of public health developed by the Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice (Council on Linkages). The Council on Linkages supports public health and healthcare professionals and organizations in using the Core Competencies by developing resources and tools and responding to questions and requests for guidance. This set of Frequently Asked Questions captures common questions received from the public health community. Don’t see your question on the list? Council on Linkages staff would be happy to help. Please send your question to competencies@phf.org

 

Development and Revision of the Core Competencies

Using the Core Competencies

Public Health Education

Accreditation Standards and Other Sets of Competencies

Core Competencies Resources and Tools

Learn More and Get Involved

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Development and Revision of the Core Competencies
 
Who developed the Core Competencies?
The Core Competencies were developed by the Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice, a collaborative of 20 national organizations engaged in public health. Originally released in 2001, the Core Competencies were based on an earlier set of Universal Competencies created by the Public Health Faculty/Agency Forum in 1991 and are regularly updated, with the current version having been released in 2014. Development and revision of the Core Competencies involves not only Council on Linkages member organizations, but also the Council on Linkages’ Core Competencies Workgroup and the broad public health community.
 
How often are the Core Competencies revised? Why?
The Council on Linkages reviews the Core Competencies every three years to determine whether revision is needed. This is a commitment the Council on Linkages made to the public health community when the Core Competencies were first released in 2001. Since 2001, the Core Competencies have been revised twice – in 2010 and 2014. Regular review and revision of the Core Competencies helps to ensure these competencies remain relevant and continue to reflect skills needed for protecting the nation’s health as the field of public health evolves.
 
Are there definitions for each Core Competencies domain?
The Council on Linkages has not developed formal written definitions for each domain, although this is being considered. In the meantime, a set of slides is available that describes the types of skills found in each domain.
 
 
Using the Core Competencies
 
Who can use the Core Competencies?
The Core Competencies are designed for the broad public health community, including practitioners, educators, and researchers working at all levels within public health organizations. These competencies are foundational and crosscutting, rather than specific to any discipline, and are divided into three tiers to help address differences in skills for individuals at different stages in their careers.

 

Who is using the Core Competencies?

Health professionals in a variety of settings, including the federal government, health departments, academic institutions, non-profit organizations and associations, and private companies, are using the Core Competencies. The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and National Association of County and City Health Officials collect information on use of the Core Competencies within health departments through their Profile studies, and the Council on Linkages explores use of the Core Competencies by academic institutions as part of Healthy People 2020.

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How are the Core Competencies being used?
Public health professionals and organizations are using the Core Competencies to better understand, assess, and meet education, training, and other workforce development needs. The Core Competencies are used for developing job descriptions, workforce competency assessments, workforce development plans, courses and curricula, and discipline-specific competencies, among other uses. The Core Competencies have also been incorporated into three Healthy People 2020 objectives and the Public Health Accreditation Board Standards and Measures. Specific examples of how organizations have used the Core Competencies are available on the Examples of Core Competencies Use webpage.
 
Can I change the wording of individual competencies?
Yes. The Core Competencies are meant to serve as a starting point for workforce development efforts, and you are welcome to modify the wording to tailor the Core Competencies to the needs of your organization’s workforce.
 
Do I have to use all of the competencies when assessing my organization’s workforce?
No, you do not have to use all of the competencies within the Core Competencies when conducting workforce assessments. Please feel free to target your assessment to the competencies that are most relevant to your organization’s goals and needs.
 
Can competencies from more than one tier apply to my job?
Yes. Each of the three tiers within the Core Competencies was developed with a broad category of positions within public health organizations in mind – Tier 1 was designed for front line or entry-level staff, Tier 2 for program management or supervisory staff, and Tier 3 for senior management or executive staff. However, for any specific position, competencies from any of the three tiers may be relevant. The tiers should not be thought of as limiting your competency options, but rather as providing guidance to help in finding appropriate competencies for a position.
 
Do the Core Competencies apply to administrative and support staff? Which tier?
The Core Competencies are meant to provide foundational or crosscutting skills for all individuals who work in the field of public health, including administrative and support staff within public health organizations. While particular competencies from any of the three tiers may apply depending on the specific position, competencies relevant to administrative and support staff positions are most likely to be found in Tier 1.
 
How do I determine which tier to use when developing job descriptions?
The tier definitions can provide a useful guide when developing job descriptions. In general, Tier 1 contains competencies for front line or entry level positions, Tier 2 for program management or supervisory positions, and Tier 3 for senior management or executive positions. However, for any specific position, it may be desirable to pull competencies from any of the three tiers.
 
How do I get permission to use the Core Competencies in my document?
No permissions are needed to use the Core Competencies in your document. All that is asked is that you include an appropriate citation.
 
How should the Core Competencies be cited?
A suggested citation for the Core Competencies is:
Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice. (2014). Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation. Available from: http://www.phf.org/resourcestools/Documents/Core_Competencies_for_Public_Health_Professionals_2014June.pdf.
Please feel free to modify this citation to match the citation style you are using.
 
Does each person need to be competent in each competency?
The Core Competencies are designed, as much as possible, to be a comprehensive set of foundational or crosscutting skills for individuals working in public health. The importance of individual competencies to a specific position will vary depending on the position. For example, for an entry level health educator who is not responsible for preparing budgets or funding proposals, it may be more beneficial to prioritize developing skills in the Communication Skills and Cultural Competency Skills domains over some of the skills found in the Financial Planning and Management Skills domain. It is important to consider types of positions and career paths when planning for competency-based professional development, as well as to ensure that the organization as a whole has strengths across the range of Core Competencies domains when engaging in workforce development planning.
 
If I’m not competent, am I incompetent?
No! Skills are developed over the course of a career within public health and can be gained in a variety of ways. In addition, specific skills may be more important at certain stages in your career and for certain types of positions. Focus initially on developing strength in competencies that are most essential for your current job and the job you would like to move into, and build from there.
 
 
Public Health Education

As a public health student, do the Core Competencies apply to me?
The Core Competencies are a set of foundational or crosscutting skills for anyone working in or preparing for a career in public health. If you plan to pursue a career in public health following graduation, the Core Competencies offer a starting point for developing skills to be effective in your future job.
 
Which tier best meets the needs of a graduating Master of Public Health (MPH) student?
Recognizing the wide variety of educational backgrounds present in the public health workforce, the tiers are based on the types of work performed in public health organizations, rather than on the education individuals might have completed. There are no educational requirements included in the tier definitions. However, in general, Tier 2 may be most appropriate for graduates of MPH programs. In an MPH program, instructors might teach primarily to the competencies contained in Tier 2 and graduating students might be expected to display competence at this level.
 
What are the educational requirements for each tier?
There are no educational requirements for any of the three tiers in the Core Competencies. Recognizing the wide variety of educational backgrounds present in the public health workforce, the definitions of the tiers are based on the types of work individuals perform within public health organizations, rather than on particular educational requirements. In terms of how the Core Competencies may be taught in public health programs, however, Tier 1 may be most appropriate for undergraduate public health programs, Tier 2 for MPH programs, and Tier 3 for DrPH programs.
 
 
Accreditation Standards and Other Sets of Competencies

How do the Core Competencies align with Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) Standards and Measures?
The Core Competencies and the PHAB Standards and Measures are both designed to align with the 10 Essential Public Health Services (Essential Services). Connections between the Core Competencies and the Essential Services are illustrated in the Core Competencies/Essential Public Health Services Crosswalk (currently being updated to reflect the 2014 version of the Core Competencies). Within the PHAB Standards and Measures, the first 10 of the 12 domains correspond to the Essential Services. In addition, Domain 8 of the PHAB Standards and Measures, which focuses on workforce development, includes a requirement for health departments to submit a workforce development plan that develops staff competencies (Standard 8.2). The Core Competencies are referenced within the Standards and Measures as an example of a nationally adopted set of core competencies that could be used for assessing staff competencies to determine areas for development. Version 1.5 of the Standards and Measures also requires the submission of position or job descriptions that include the competencies needed for the position.
 
How do the Core Competencies align with Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accreditation criteria?
For questions related to CEPH accreditation, please contact CEPH directly by emailing an Accreditation Specialist or calling 202.789.1050.
 
How do the Core Competencies relate to the Master of Public Health (MPH) Core Competency Model developed by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH)?
The Core Competencies and the MPH Core Competency Model both provide sets of skills relevant for public health, but are designed for slightly different audiences. The Core Competencies describe skills for individuals working in public health – and by extension, those preparing for careers in the public health workforce – regardless of the setting in which they work or their formal education, while the MPH Core Competency Model is focused on skills students should acquire during a CEPH-accredited MPH program. Not all of the competencies within the Core Competences will be developed by completing an MPH degree program; some may be more effectively learned on the job. The most similarity between the two competency sets may be found in the interdisciplinary or cross-cutting areas within the MPH Core Competency Model.
 
How do the Core Competencies relate to discipline-specific competencies?
The Core Competencies are foundational skills designed to be relevant for individuals working in public health, regardless of discipline. The Core Competencies provide a foundation upon which sets of discipline-specific competencies can be developed, as has been done for public health nursing, public health informatics, and epidemiology, among other areas.
 
 
Core Competencies Resources and Tools

Are there tools to help me use the Core Competencies?
Yes! Development of resources and tools to assist public health professionals and organizations with using the Core Competencies is an ongoing effort of the Council on Linkages. Existing tools can be found on the Core Competencies Tools webpage.
 
Is there an online course that provides an introduction to the Core Competencies?
The Council on Linkages has not created an online course about the Core Competencies. However, the Kentucky Department for Public Health has produced a short video that provides an overview of the Core Competencies, and background information on the Core Competencies can be found in webinars held in collaboration with the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and National Association of County and City Health Officials.
 
Do you have surveys or assessments based on the Core Competencies?
Assessments based on the Core Competencies are available online to help individuals explore their knowledge and skill with respect to each of the eight domains that comprise the Core Competencies. These assessments are self-scoring PDF forms, and a separate form is available for each of the three tiers within the Core Competencies. Organizations are encouraged to adapt these assessments as needed for their workforce development efforts.
 
Once I have identified my competency needs, are there resources available to help me build those skills?
Yes! The Core Competencies are integrated into TRAIN, a national learning management network for public health, so that learners can find courses that help address competency needs. TRAIN makes it possible to search for courses related to specific domains, tiers, or individual competencies with the Core Competencies. Registering for a TRAIN account is free, and the majority of the courses are free as well.
 
Can I use the Core Competencies resources and tools you have online? Are there any restrictions on using the resources and tools?
The Council on Linkages makes its Core Competencies resources and tools freely available to everyone. Please feel free to use these tools as is or to modify them to meet your workforce development needs. For questions or requests related to specific resources or tools, please contact competencies@phf.org.
 
 
Learn More and Get Involved
 
How can I become more involved with the Core Competencies?
Work related to the Core Competencies is guided by the Council on Linkages’ Core Competencies Workgroup. If you are interested in becoming more involved in Core Competencies activities, please consider joining the Workgroup. Other ways to contribute include sharing Core Competencies resources your organization has developed, such as job descriptions and workforce development plans, or other examples of how you or your organization are using the Core Competencies. To join the Workgroup or share resources or examples, please contact Kathleen Amos at kamos@phf.org.
 
How can I join the Core Competencies Workgroup?
The Council on Linkages’ Core Competencies Workgroup supports activities related to the Core Competencies, providing guidance on continued development and refinement of the Core Competencies and creating resources and tools to support Core Competencies use. Membership in this Workgroup is open to anyone who is interested in participating in these activities. To join, please email Kathleen Amos at kamos@phf.org.
 
How can I share how my organization is using the Core Competencies?
Stories and examples of how organizations are using the Core Competencies are always appreciated! To share, please email competencies@phf.org. Your contribution may be featured online in the PHF Pulse blog or the growing collection of examples of Core Competencies use.
 
How can I submit feedback about the Core Competencies?
Feedback on the Core Competencies is always welcome! To share your thoughts, please email competencies@phf.org.
 
What if my question isn’t on this list? How can I get additional assistance with using the Core Competencies?
Council on Linkages staff are available to provide additional assistance with using the Core Competencies by email and phone. For help, please contact competencies@phf.org.  
 
Core Competencies Frequently Asked Questions