Filling the Gap: Training the Workforce in Evidence-Based Public Health

Faculty; Public Health; Research

For more than two decades, the Prevention Research Center (PRC) at Washington University has been training public-health practitioners from around the world in Evidence-Based Public Health, showing them how to develop programs and policies for communities based on local preferences and proven solutions to public health problems.

In its most recent training at the university’s Knight Center in March, the PRC team welcomed 28 participants from six state health departments and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Ross Brownson

“Less than 20 percent of public health employees have a degree in public health,” said Ross Brownson, Director of the PRC and the Steven H. and Susan U. Lipstein Distinguished Professor at the Brown School. “Our course, a partnership with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, plays an ongoing role building the public health workforce.”

The March training was a three and a half day course attended by people working in day-to-day public health practice in Arkansas, Texas, Rhode Island, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Micronesia. Among the leaders attending the training were Nancy Sutton, Chief for the Center for Chronic Care & Disease Management at the Rhode Island Department of Health; and X-ner Luther, Non-Communicable Diseases Section Chief, Federated States of Micronesia Department of Health and Social Affairs.

Participants gave the session high marks.

 “This training is not only a place where you improve your skills in addressing the vast challenges of chronic diseases, it’s where you learn to appreciate perspectives from a diverse team of experts in public health,” Luther said. “It enabled me to better understand the importance of having a framework that supports evidence-based decision making. It has equipped me to improve my work to better serve my people in the big ocean state/country of Micronesia.”

Sutton agreed.

“This training was exceptional,” she said. “Both those of us who have been in our careers for over 25 years and those who are newer in their careers benefited from the guidance and tools provided. Staff have already shared how they have applied what was learned to improve their approach in framing policy position papers, completing grant applications, and building relationships internally and external to the department of health.”

Evidence based public health (EBPH) is the development, implementation, and evaluation of effective programs and policies in public health through application of principles of scientific reasoning. The process involves integrating research-based interventions with community preferences to improve the health of populations and health equity. The course has focused primarily on skills for practitioners in chronic disease prevention and control. Through presentations, practice exercises, and case studies, the course takes an applied approach and emphasizes information that is readily available to busy practitioners. A 10-week online format is also available.

Since 1997, the EBPH course has reached nearly 4,000 public health practitioners representing all 50 states, 2 territories, 34 countries, and 4 continents. Findings from evaluations of the course have been published in multiple peer-reviewed journals, and a book based on the course is now in its third edition.

In a 3–5-day in person training, the course focuses on 10 specific skill sets to improve public health practice.  In evaluations participants provided after the March training, participants applauded the program and said it provided them with practical guidance to improve their work in a variety of ways, among them:

  • Involving people who are impacted or at high risk for specific health issues in decision-making and program planning.
  • Ensuring equity is central to evidence-based decision making.
  • Developing data briefs about cancer to present to legislators.
  • Using data to effectively describe who the disproportionately affected populations are in a given chronic disease/condition in a geographic area and why they are affected.

One participant said the training changed their views about their job dramatically.

“I went in feeling like my work wasn’t all that important,” they said. “Now, I have a different perspective on what I do and how it affects the health and well-being of those in my state.”

For more information about Evidence-based Public Health, see For more information about the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, go to