THE NEED FOR TRAINING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
(See endnotes 51, 52)
There is substantial deficiency in the size, training, and qualifications of the available environmental health workforce at all levels of government to carry out all existing programs of prevention, mitigation, and control as well as emergency programs to prevent disease and injury and protect and sustain the natural environment. Further, because of the many specific science-based competencies needed to carry out this work in an effective, cost-effective, and efficient manner, programs become inefficient and potentially hazardous situations are not appropriately solved. This will lead inevitably to very serious consequences of disease and injury and destruction of environmental resources. These harmful situations may be very costly and could have been prevented.
The environmental health workforce has grown substantially older and as a result of this there will be a large number of retirements of highly qualified professionals from all levels of government in the next few years. Because of many factors including limited salaries and opportunities, as well as severe budget cuts in working departments, many young people are choosing other areas of endeavor for their career paths. Retention of qualified individuals has become a challenge.
Many of the new individuals being hired have general knowledge but not the specific knowledge, attitudes, practices, and experience to carry out their role in determining the causes of many of the potential hazards and the necessary solutions and to teach others how to make appropriate changes, or the necessary communication skills to prevent disease and injury and promote health through successful implementation of the various programs of the departments. Even the brightest individuals and those most motivated to achieve appropriate goals can only do as much as they are equipped to do if they do not have the appropriate college education in the sciences and environmental health sciences and experiential work through internships.
Another concern is that enrollment at the nation’s accredited environmental health programs has been in decline over the past decade.
Best Practices in Training for Environmental Health Professionals
- • Provide closely supervised paid internships to colleges and universities for environmental health students as a means of securing new trained personnel and covering essential services especially during the summer months when the demands increase sharply.
- • Determine the nature and scope of various environmental problems within communities and utilize Best Practices to resolve them.
- • Determine the various competencies needed by environmental health personnel to effectively carry out Best Practices to resolve ongoing and emergency problems.
- • Pretest all new personnel to determine the effective level of various competencies prior to training programs.
- • Develop a comprehensive training program to prepare personnel to effectively operate in a variety of different situations.
- • Train all supervisory personnel in all aspects of each of the environmental areas under their supervision and routinely certify them and recertify them in order to ensure that they in turn evaluate and retrain the personnel under their supervision.
- • Closely supervise all new personnel in field situations and help them make appropriate improvements where needed.
- • Closely supervise all personnel in a variety of communication techniques to make sure that their findings are transmitted simply to the individuals they are dealing with and that they are able to implement necessary corrections.
- • Posttest all new personnel after various courses and 6-12 months of closely supervised field experience to determine current level of various competencies needed to carry out the various types of programs within the department.
- • Provide an appropriate orientation course for all personnel describing: the nature of specific groups within the community as well as their ability to communicate effectively in English; natural leaders identified in these communities that can be of assistance to environmental and public health personnel in achieving appropriate objectives; the various programs within the department; the appropriate laws which are utilized by personnel; departmental benefits and expectations; opportunities for licensing, credentialing, and also advancement; etc.
- • Develop problem solving skills as well as human relations skills for all individuals since books and education may give you the framework for resolving situations but only the individual on-site can actually apply this knowledge in a meaningful way and help individuals prevent disease and injury, promote good health, and protect and sustain the environment.
- • Use supervisory evaluations which include a day in the field with the individual at least twice a year for all existing staff and more frequently for probationary staff with the supervisor making separate evaluations or inspections and then comparing the results with the field person. This will be a wonderful learning experience for the field person especially if the supervisor explains carefully what the differences are in his/her findings from those of the field person and why. Also the supervisor should conduct an audit at least twice a year of a previous day’s work of an individual and then explain to the person the differences in findings and why. The supervisor must remember that things do change from one day to another and be careful about how the evaluation is carried out.
- • Provide closely supervised field experience for the graduate of an accredited environmental health science program for a period of time and then have the person work on his/her own program areas with periodic review by the supervisor.
- • Provide specific training in environmental health issues and then closely supervised field experience for the graduate of an environmental science program and then have the person work on his/her own program areas with periodic review by the supervisor.
- • Provide specific training in all environmental areas including environmental health issues for the graduate of a general science program and then closely supervise him/her in the field for an extended period of time.
- • Provide specific training in the general sciences needed for environmental health issues and also the specific areas of the environment including environmental health issues for the graduate of a non-related college program. This individual will need to be under close supervision for long periods of time and should initially be assigned simple tasks such as gathering samples and routine inspections.
- • Insist that all employees upon being hired have taken courses in communication skills at the college level and have successfully completed them.
- • Present short but frequent programs on the use of a variety of communication skills including role playing, report writing, oral presentations of written material in a brief but understandable manner to a non-scientific audience, and proper use of emails and letters. Give individuals assignments and then evaluate them immediately.
- • Make the content of all short courses immediately usable by the participants and have them test the information under supervision and actual field situations.
- • Train personnel how to effectively evaluate all situations, and make appropriate recommendations for correction and transmit the information in an effective manner to the individuals responsible for the change.
- • Emphasize prevention, mitigation, and control over the enforcement of laws, rules, and regulations. Consultation and assistance will have much better outcomes than the threat of enforcement actions.
- • Use the reward of registration and credentialing to acknowledge the proficiency of the individual and also a substantial increase in salary.
- • Utilize the National Environmental Health Association (see Best Practices for Professional Associations above) nationwide network of certified food safety trainers for information concerning the training of trainers, managers, and employees in appropriate food service techniques.
- • Use the National Environmental Health Association Epi-Ready Team Training program developed in conjunction with the CDC.
- • Use the National Environmental Health Association Food-Safe Schools Program developed in conjunction with the CDC and USDA.
- • Use the program presented by the National Environmental Health Association entitled Industry—Foodborne Illness Investigation Training.
- • Use the CDC Health Practices on Cruise Ships: Training for Employees, for food protection presentations.