The PHL Academy Certificate: Advancing Law and Policy Skills for Public Health Practitioners
No matter where in our public health system a public health practitioner works, understanding the law is essential for advancing health and equity. Yet public health practitioners do not always receive formal training on how our legal system affects health outcomes.
Enter the Public Health Law (PHL) Academy. To address this learning gap, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ChangeLab Solutions offer free, on-demand training for any public health practitioner who wishes to strengthen their understanding of our legal system and how it affects public health. To earn the Public Health Law Academy Certificate, a person completes seven PHL Academy trainings focused on core competencies that all public health practitioners need.
We connected with several PHL Academy people, including April Hamm, a public health practitioner who has earned the PHL Academy certificate. She and others shared with us what they had learned through completing the trainings required for the certificate.
Following a PHL Academy Certificate Recipient
April Hamm, a seasoned public health advocate and entrepreneur in New Orleans, has been working in public health for over 20 years. “I’m a big believer in continuous learning,” she told us. April’s consultancy firm brings timely public health support to small business owners amid a changing policy landscape. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, April’s firm supported a virtual series on healing racial trauma. April also co-created a virtual town hall to help local small business owners and freelancers navigate the CARES Act. She said that the Public Health Law Academy “really helped me to expand my toolbox. I did not go to law school, and even the public health courses that I took were very academic. This gave me some very practical resources and tools that I can use right away, in terms of research and having a framework for both understanding and analyzing [public health policy]."
"This gave me some very practical resources and tools that I can use right away, in terms of research and having a framework for both understanding and analyzing [public health policy]."
Building a Foundation in Law and Policy: The Core Courses
The core courses of the Public Health Law Academy cover fundamental public health law concepts and explore the integral role of law in the everyday practice of public health. April and her fellow trainees gave us a tour of some of the courses, outlining how the trainings have positively affected their work:
- Public Health Law: Past and Present answers the questions “What do public health practitioners need to know to navigate our legal system? How can they identify the most effective law and policy tools to protect the health and well-being of individuals and communities?” This training can build expertise for anyone ― from seasoned professionals to students who are just beginning their public health journey. A professor of community public health nursing in Arkansas says, “I teach nursing students, so a lot of times they're more in tune to what happens in acute health practice.” She includes this course for a new perspective: there’s “a legal component to [public health nursing] as far as addressing health through law and policy.”
- The Structure of Government training examines the different levels of government and the interactions between them — for example, the extent of state authority over local health agencies or the difference between local health departments and local boards of health. The training answers questions like “What does controlling infectious disease look like at federal, state, and local levels?” April commented, “What the government is doing and what the legislators are doing directly impacts how we're able to support our mental health and access. When I saw that this was available, I thought that it was really relevant.”
- What role does law play in emergencies like pandemics or natural disasters? What powers do governments have to protect the public from diseases? Public Health Threats & the US Constitution is a timely course that highlights the balancing act between promoting public safety and protecting individual rights. April said, “I'm a huge proponent of these open access trainings. I think that what you have is a great entryway for people who are brand new to this field.” Another PHL Academy trainee said of this course that she found “helpful examples with Supreme Court cases that make up the foundation of public health policies.”
- Legal Epidemiology is the scientific study and deployment of law and policy as a factor in the causes, distribution, and prevention of disease and injury in a population. Having a shared language in policy and law provides a bridge that allows public health practitioners to collaborate across sectors, which is a key deliverable of the certificate program. April remarked, “I found legal epidemiology helpful in filling in some knowledge gaps. I have more confidence, and I feel better, like I can collaborate with people who are working in this field who have more of a formal background in health policy or law.” Another course participant, the nursing professor in Arkansas, said, “Legal epi has been very beneficial in my own personal schooling.”
“What the government is doing and what the legislators are doing directly impacts how we're able to support our mental health and access. When I saw that this was available, I thought that it was really relevant.”
A Certificate for All Kinds of Public Health Practitioners
These trainings are designed for staff in local, state, and federal health departments, and as April showed, it also benefits other kinds of public health practitioners, like public health lawyers, nurses, public health faculty and students in graduate and undergraduate programs, and even entrepreneurs. Another PHL Academy participant, a PhD student, described how the course affected her doctoral program: “I took the [training on legal epidemiology] and that's kind of what opened my eyes to it.” Now, she says, “[in] my PhD dissertation, I'm utilizing legal epidemiology policy surveillance as my methodology.”
After you’ve completed the PHL Academy trainings, if you want to take what you’ve learned into the classroom or share it with colleagues, we also have a collection of sample slides, scripts, and facilitator’s guides that can be tailored to your local context. These resources are for anyone who provides training to public health practitioners on our legal system and its role in improving population outcomes. Think of the resources as a teacher’s toolbox. A checklist, facilitator's guide, script, and slide show can all be tailored to fit the needs of your program or community.
The nursing instructor said, “I teach a graduate and an undergraduate course, but undergraduate students don't always understand the role that law and policy actually plays in health. I have the [nursing students] do the public health law trainings through ChangeLab, which a lot of times will open their eyes a bit.”
“You have done a great job in creating something that's necessary, that's really not being offered anywhere else, and it's freely accessible.”
The certificate track offers an overview of foundational policy and law for anyone in the public health field. For April, obtaining the PHL Academy certificate provided
- A foundation for understanding and implementing legal and policy guidelines like the CARES Act;
- A shared language for professional collaboration on the core strategies and techniques of legal epidemiology; and
- Documentation to increase the visibility of her growing technical skill set.
“You have done a great job in creating something that's necessary, that's really not being offered anywhere else, and it's freely accessible,” April says.