Five Skills Public Health Officials Need to Combat the Next Pandemic
Another pandemic is inevitable; preparation is, too
In the United States, federal and state initiatives to revitalize public health agencies have focused primarily on hiring and training frontline personnel, such as community health workers, epidemiologists and microbiologists. The COVID-19 pandemic also exposed a need to improve leadership skills of executives of public health agencies.
During the pandemic, there was a massive turnover of public health agency leadership, with many state and local public health officials being fired or resigning due to public abuse, disputes with elected officials, exhaustion, or public controversies. A New York Times investigation published in mid-October found that “more than 500 top health officials …left their jobs” during the pandemic in what has been called “the largest exodus of public health leaders in American history.”
While many people have the technical qualifications to fill these newly vacant positions, they also require key leadership skills. Many programs provide leadership training and coaching for business and government, but few address the unique cognitive and management skills that are needed to lead public health agencies, particularly during infectious disease epidemics. Based on our experience leading the COVID-19 response in New York City, we believe that public health leaders require five essential skills to effectively manage the next pandemic.
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