Building Professional Development for Total Worker Health
Over the past 40 years, NIOSH and other organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine have examined issues related to workforce development for professionals in occupational safety and health protection and health promotion. They have found a strong need in almost all health care disciplines to develop competent professionals with the skills and abilities to more comprehensively improve global and workplace health and well-being. This finding demonstrates an urgent, essential need to develop and support a more integrated approach to training and professional development.
This leads to the question: What skills and training are required to prepare professionals to address the complex challenges affecting the modern workplace? In a NIOSH-sponsored meeting of the extramurally funded Centers, for instance, many expressed that the current workforce training needs are in occupational health psychology. Dr. Martin Cherniack, co-director of the Center for Promotion of Health in the New England Workforce, cited an emerging need for revised curricula for physicians and nurses that reflect shifts in health care policy, as well as the importance of including occupational health in the training of environmental health and safety professionals.
The NIOSH Office for Total Worker Health is also examining this question and invites your input.
Current efforts by NIOSH, Centers of Excellence, and Others
NIOSH continues to support its mandate to protect workers’ safety and health through the education and training of professionals by means of workforce development programs. These programs occur extramurally, through research and training grants for academic institutions to establish multidisciplinary centers. Building upon this foundation of protecting worker safety and health and recognizing the gap in curriculum integration, the Office for TWH has begun defining key stakeholders for this issue and exploring training needs to equip health professionals to address issues related to the total worker health of employees and organizations. The Office for TWH is considering the cultural and economic nuances, differing objectives and organizational strategies, and complex interactions between the various stakeholders. The Office for TWH will be studying the implications of these factors for current and future practitioners of occupational safety and health, worksite health promotion, medicine, nursing, psychology, human resources and productivity management, and others.
Currently, NIOSH and the Centers of Excellence are providing various professional development opportunities. In February, NIOSH launched a Total Worker Health Webinar Series offering free continuing education credits (i.e., CEU, CNE, CME, and CHES) and providing the latest research and case studies on the integration of health protection and health promotion. The Harvard School of Public Health Center for Work, Health, and Well-being is offering its third course in January 2015, entitled “Work, Health, and Well-being: Integrating Wellness and Occupational Health and Safety in the Workplace.” In October at the 1st International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health, Pre and Post Conference Workshops will offer state of the art strategies and implementation tools for creating enhanced cultures of safety and health.
Outside of NIOSH, leading academic institutions are also making strides in developing trainings and curricula that integrate health protection and health promotion. For instance, this fall, Western Kentucky University (highlighted in this issue’s Promising Practices) will be implementing a Master of Science and advanced certificate program that features an integrated curriculum with both occupational safety and health promotion components. The Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) now offers two graduate-level courses relevant to Total Worker Health, including one titled “Health Protection and Health Promotion in the Workplace,” and another interdisciplinary course structured around NIOSH Total Worker Health principles that allows students to conduct onsite workplace assessments of community organizations’ health protection and health promotion programs.
To address the current total worker health knowledge gaps in workplaces, CSPH’s Center for Worker Health & Environment runs Health LinksTM Colorado, a community-based program that certifies, funds, and trains small businesses on evidence-based practices to implement sustainable workplace health and safety programs. Dr. Lee Newman of CSPH noted, “In the short run, we need to focus on the retraining of those individuals who are already engaging workers in health, safety, or both. The demand is high and the supply of trained professionals low. For the long term, we need to train future leaders in the field of TWH, who can innovate, conduct research, evaluate, and effectively disseminate knowledge, so that the field grows in credibility.”
Continue the conversation
As the concept and rationale for a Total Worker Health approach continues to evolve, the question remaining will be how to translate those findings into practice—particularly, how to build them into long-term educational plans to inform the development of the next generation of professionals in this field. This will entail more communication and collaboration across professions, educational and training programs, and health care systems.
Are you interested in contributing to the conversation on workforce development in person? The Office for TWH warmly welcomes you to join us at the forthcoming 1st International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health, on October 6 - 8. The Symposium will feature an exclusive plenary and Q&A session with our panel of experts from the Centers of Excellence, on “Creating the First Generation of TWH Professionals.” Also, voice your opinions on our NIOSH Total Worker Health LinkedIn Group under the discussion: What are your thoughts on the main needs of and challenges in creating a workforce that can tackle total worker health issues?