Speakers at head table at IOM symposium

APHA's Georges Benjamin, left, responds during a panel discussion with other health leaders at Monday's IOM meeting on public health capacity. Photo by Michelle Holshue

On Monday, APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin addressed the Institute of Medicine’s Forum on Microbial Threats. The IOM symposium, entitled Sustaining Public Health Capacity in an Age of Austerity, focused on challenges facing the field of public health given the difficult financial and political climate in the U.S.

Benjamin’s presentation addressed the future of the public health workforce. He discussed challenges in workforce capacity building, including difficulties in ensuring that existing public health workers receive continuing education to keep their skills up to date, as well as the struggle to prepare students who are equipped to work as public health practitioners upon graduation. “We don’t train people to be regulators, communicators or managers,” Benjamin argued.

Benjamin also discussed his vision for the future of public health, highlighting the benefits of public health accreditation, the utility of Web-based continuing education and the advantages of social media as low-cost, highly accessible tools for public health practitioners to spread their messages and engage with their audiences.

In a panel discussion following his speech, Benjamin elaborated on the importance of public health communications and the use of social media. These communication avenues, Benjamin argued, are important tools to help build trust in the communities in which public health practitioners work. “You’ve got to build that relationship with the media, with the public and with local elected officials before you step into that community meeting,” Benjamin added.

The symposium at the Institute of Medicine is part of an ongoing series of workshops and symposia that are intended to foster dialogue around current issues in health and medicine. For more information about the IOM’s position on public health funding, read their April 2012 report, For the Public’s Health: Investing in a Healthier Future.