Tennessee Public Health Workforce Needs Assessment: A Competency-Based Approach

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Maintaining the health of Tennesseans depends heavily on a well-trained, efficient public health workforce that can work effectively in a complex environment. In order to assess the training needs of this group, the Tennessee Public Health Training Center-LIFEPATH administered a survey to all governmental public health employees in Tennessee during the summer of 2012. This instrument was modeled after previous assessments conducted by health agencies outside of Tennessee which utilized as their rubric the Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals developed by the Council on Linkages between Academia and Public Health Practice. The goal of this research was to inform and streamline educational efforts of the Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH), LIFEPATH and their partners across the state by identifying specific competency driven training opportunities within the workforce. Participants were recruited via email and directed to SurveyMonkey, an online survey toolkit, where they could complete the questionnaire. Of the 5178 TDOH employees who received the recruitment email, 3086 individuals completed at least one of the competency questions for a response rate of 59.6%. The survey assigned questions pertinent to the eight core competency areas to respondents based on one of three Tiers – Tier 1: Entry Level, Tier 2: Management Level, Tier 3: Leadership Level. Once the data were collected, responses from all three tiers were dichotomized to generate a “Needs Score” which when summarized represented the percentage of responses indicating a lack of knowledge or proficiency in a competency area. Tier 1 respondents had an average needs score of 60.46% in each of the eight core competency areas. Tier 2 had an average needs score of 49.50%, and Tier 3 respondents had an average needs score of 28.91%. This trend shows that individuals in leadership positions within TDOH were more likely to be knowledgeable or proficient in the eight core competency areas. Prior to administering the survey, TDOH job classifications were submitted to an expert panel within the health department. This body was tasked with assigning tiers to specific job classifications. Previous needs assessments that used the eight core competencies had respondents self-select their tier. As a test of validity the LIFEPATH survey asked TDOH employees to select their job classification in addition to tier. A Kappa test of agreement between self-selection of tier and their actual tier determined by TDOH leadership showed moderate agreement (Kappa=0.5089), suggesting that while most respondents selected the correct tier; there remained some confusion regarding tier definitions. This must be considered when evaluating the results of previous studies that utilize only the self-selected tiers to drive their survey. This data has already begun to direct training goals at the state, regional and local levels across Tennessee and will serve as a baseline measure for future evaluations of educational programing’s impact on workforce competency.


Johnson City, TN

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