Public Health

Core Competencies of Public Health in Canada



A comprehensive public health system is made up of practices that collaborate well with public health initiatives. Canadians most often turn to primary health services as their first point of contact within the health system. Unfortunately, the general population knows little to nothing about public health, even though public health is an integral part of Canada’s health system. Public health is population centric and involves both short and long-term interventions to ensure health protection, health promotion, disease prevention and prolongment of life. However, healthcare is individual centric and involves diagnostic and treatments, making it a short-term intervention approach. Though healthcare and public health use different approaches, they have a shared responsibility to limit the impacts of disease and disability. It is therefore important to maintain and improve the competence of public health professionals to prepare them for new challenges such as flu pandemics. This is the basis for the development of core competencies of public health to assure the public of an evidence-informed, quality, safe and consistent public health services.

What are core competencies?

The core competencies of public health in Canada are a set of skills necessary for the practice of public health. They are interdisciplinary and provide a structured way of practice to ensure attainment of consistent results by public health professionals. Core competencies can be divided into two main groups, generic core competencies that maintain the functionality of the public health system and specific core principles that are designed to achieve specific goals. Generic core competencies include population health assessment; surveillance; disease and injury prevention; health promotion and health protection. There are currently 36 specific core competencies grouped into seven categories.

Why do we need core competencies?

They help improve the health of the public by creating a united, effective workforce and facilitating delivery of a high quality service that is standardized, ethical, population focused and evidence-based. Core competencies also improve the way public health professionals work by providing them with structured guides as well as educational or work specific support.

How were the current core competencies developed?

Core competencies were born out of a collaborative effort by a Federal/Provincial/Territorial Joint Task Group on Public Health to strengthen Canada’s public health capacity. This is so because core competencies were identified as one of the key attributes in the development of a robust public health system.

Who are the core competencies for?

They are developed primarily for Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) also known as Executive Officers or Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) to ensure maintenance of competency and proficiency in their daily work. However, other public health practitioners can use select core competencies applicable to their roles to ensure consistent results from their work.

Core Competency Statements

Importance of values and attitudes

Core competencies should not be used in isolation but in conjuction with societal public health values (equity, respect for diversity, etc.) and attitudes to meet population health needs and achieve other public health related goals.

Core competences in seven categories

1. Public Health Sciences 

Involves the application of knowledge and expertise from various public health sciences such as behavioural and social sciences; biostatistics; epidemiology; environmental public health; demography; workplace health and the prevention of chronic diseases, infectious diseases, psychosocial problems and injuries in public health practice.

2. Assessment and Analysis 

Focuses on the gathering, assessment and analysis of information to make evidence informed decisions. The category is key to the success of investigation and policy making processes.

3. Policy and Program Planning, Implementation and Evaluation 

Facilitates effective and evidence-informed selection of options, planning, implementation and evaluation of policies and/or programs in public health. The key focus areas include the management of incidents such as outbreaks and emergencies.

4. Partnerships, Collaboration and Advocacy 

Focuses on the development of the skills needed to work with others to achieve population-centred health outcomes. This does not include the sharing of information only, but also resources and responsibilities. Another key function of this category is its responsibility in advocating for vulnerable populations to reduce health inequities and inequalities.

5. Diversity and Inclusiveness 

Deals with how social determinants of health influence health outcomes. It also educates public health professionals on how to apply culturally relevant approaches when dealing with diverse cultures.

6. Communication 

Involves internal and external communication protocol and the use of verbal and non-verbal cues. It also involves best communication practices on educating, protecting and promoting healthy and safe initiatives to the public to prolong their lives.

7. Leadership

Deals with optimization of work processes and environment, improving public health capacity and the alignment of daily work with the ‘big picture’ (nation’s vision of public health).

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