Cultural Competency for Public Health Professionals

As society becomes more global, public health professionals find themselves increasingly in situations where cultural competency and diversity awareness are vital to bringing quality care to people.

little girl at water well

photo credit: University of Missouri Master of Public Health Program

The academic world recognizes this and has answered the call for help with a growing body of coursework and resources designed for public health professionals.

Graduate Level Certificates

Graduate Certificates are one way to gain knowledge about a specific subject without assuming a full load of coursework. Many colleges offer health-related certificates in a wide range of topics.

  • The University of South Florida has a Health Equity Graduate Certificate that covers health disparities, diversity, and cultural competence. The certificate challenges students to help change the health paradigm in the United States.

A More In-depth Look

While all of the certificate programs have their own varying enrollment and completion requirements, most follow a model similar to the Graduate Certificate in Global Public Health offered at the University of Missouri School of Public Health.

The MU program understands that working professionals have limited time and thus offer online classes and flexible scheduling as the backbone of the coursework. Students come from a variety of backgrounds and degree programs, including business and political science, and the certificate can be combined with a Masters of Public Health program.

Lise Saffran Quote

Many graduate certificate programs require a field study to move theory into practice. If students enter the MU program without having had a previous international public health experience, the Certificate requires one for completion. One option is to participate in a study abroad program offered this summer through the school of social work. “Time out of the country will be limited to two weeks which will allow people with full-time jobs to complete the requirement within a normal summer vacation time frame,” said Lise Saffran, MPH, MFA Interim Director of the University of Missouri Master of Public Health program.

Students in Africa

photo credit: University of Missouri Master of Public Health Program

The program also looks for innovative ways to involve Certificate students in global health through coursework, including a planned collaboration with the University of Western Cape in Africa in which students from both locations will be working on a project together.

“We’re excited to be able to give our students the opportunity to work from a distance with students enrolled in UWCs post-graduate diploma program,” Saffran explained. “This includes experienced public health workers from all over southern Africa.”


Continuing Education Programs and Other Resources

Other types of health equity coursework include continuing education programs like the National Association of County and City Public Health Officials’ Roots of Health Inequality web-based course.

The Prevention Institute offers The Health Equity and Prevention Primer (HEPP) that features seven learning modules that range from 12 to 21 minutes in length and include follow-up tools and resources. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has an online course called Effective Communication Tools for Healthcare Professionals that assists with cultural diversity and low English proficiency.

Community Commons Can Help

A Community Health Needs Assessment report for your county allows you to use data to identify which continuing education resources can best help you assist the population in the areas you serve. Explore your county right now.

CHNA snapshot


Do you know of a resource that will help public health professionals increase cultural competency? Share your stories and strategies on the Commons so that we can collaborate, learn, and make change together.


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