Mastering Advocacy: A Key Competency for Public Health Professionals

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In today’s public health landscape, the capacity to advocate effectively for health policies is crucial. This skill not only addresses persistent racial health disparities but also tackles broader issues like environmental justice and equitable healthcare access. Given its importance, one might assume that advocacy training is deeply embedded in the curriculum of public health education, particularly in Master of Public Health (MPH) programs. However, recent research presents a concerning gap in this area.

What Does the Research Say?

A recent study, focusing on accredited schools and programs of public health in the U.S., reveals startling insights into how advocacy is integrated into the MPH curriculum. The study analyzed 98 course syllabi from various public health programs to assess the content and frequency of advocacy training. The findings are eye-opening: a significant portion of these courses incorporates advocacy only peripherally, with only 7% prioritizing advocacy skills as a central theme.

This raises an important question: Are we adequately preparing public health professionals to be effective advocates?

The Current State of Advocacy Training

Most courses include advocacy as part of broader subjects like health policy or health care management. Important skills like coalition-building, media strategies, and policy communication are covered, but the depth and focus on these skills vary widely. Only a minority of courses delve into the practical aspects of advocacy, such as lobbying and community organizing. Furthermore, an essential component—equity in advocacy—is often sidelined, with only 10% of the courses integrating it meaningfully into their curriculum.

The Implications for Public Health Practice

The implications of these findings are profound. Public health professionals are at the forefront of advocating for policies that directly impact community health outcomes. Without robust training in advocacy, these professionals may find themselves ill-equipped to influence policy effectively or to engage stakeholders successfully. This gap in training can hinder the progress toward health equity and the eradication of health disparities.

Towards a More Comprehensive Advocacy Education

To bridge this gap, the study suggests several strategies. Enhancing support for advocacy-focused faculty and standardizing advocacy training are pivotal steps. Offering more experiential learning opportunities, where students can apply advocacy skills in real-world settings, could also significantly enrich the curriculum. Additionally, integrating advocacy training with equity-focused education could empower future public health leaders to tackle systemic issues more effectively.

A Call to Action

The need for well-defined advocacy competencies is clear. Academic institutions, alongside accrediting bodies like the Council on Education for Public Health, must take a proactive stance in refining and emphasizing advocacy training. By doing so, they can equip public health professionals with the necessary tools to drive meaningful change.


As we continue to confront complex health challenges, the role of advocacy in public health cannot be overstated. Our educational institutions must respond to this need by cultivating skilled advocates who are prepared to shape policies that promote health, well-being, and equity.

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About the Author

Jon Scaccia, with a Ph.D. in clinical-community psychology and a research fellowship at the US Department of Health and Human Services. He specializes in implementing innovative, data-informed strategies to enhance community health and development. Jon’s significant contribution to public health is underscored by his creation of the R=MC² readiness model, which aids organizations in effectively navigating change. And boy oh boy, does this try to spend time in advocacy in this tough climate.

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