Onboarding, Development, and Advancement Tips for New Performance Improvement Professionals
For health departments wanting to pursue public health accreditation or simply improve the quality of their services, it is essential to hire an employee dedicated to holding the agency accountable for these efforts. According to this table from the 2016 National Profile of Local Health Departments (pictured at right), only 35% of local health departments had a staff member dedicated to quality improvement (QI).
Elements of an agency-wide quality improvement (QI) program currently in place at LHD at level of QI Implementation
Source: National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) 2016 National Profile of Public Health Departments
Most people leading an agency’s improvement efforts have a large scope, ranging from accreditation to QI to performance management. In this article, we will refer to this role as a performance improvement (PI) professional.
So you are a newly hired PI professional—now what? Here are a few resources to help with the onboarding process and acquiring current information about QI in public health.
To narrow the scope of job duties and write performance review documents, the Public Health Foundation (PHF) has created a draft of competencies for PI professionals in public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also listed some sample job descriptions on its website, which can help new PI professionals understand success factors and behavior expectations.
QI trainings focused on learning the basics (Plan, Do, Study, Act cycles, storyboards, etc.), are available online and in person for free or a low cost. Training might also be available through your local Public Health Institute or Regional Public Health Training Center. Several threads in the Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange (PHQIX) Community Forum also describe relevant QI training opportunities.
Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) online orientation can help a PI professional learn how QI and PI activities relate to public health accreditation. The application of this training varies based on an agency’s history with accreditation: agencies that are accredited or pursuing accreditation should take the training, but agencies not pursuing accreditation can skip it.
Many states have created local PI peer learning communities that would be beneficial to connect with so that PI professionals can gain an understanding of the history of PI activities in their state. Talking to someone in the same position helps with understanding the expectations and challenges of the position and provides a network of support.
Joining a few targeted e-mail listservs will provide a communication channel to stay informed on relevant news and activities in the public health PI field. These news sources are listed as follows:
- Public Health Performance Improvement Network—a learning community and peer exchange network
- PHQIX—an online community designed to be a communication hub for learning and sharing information about public health QI
- P.I. Compass—a single monthly newsletter that is a combination of the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships Network Update and AccreditNATION newsletter
- PHAB’s e-Newsletter—distributed periodically throughout the year and provides the latest on program activities and updates from public health partner organizations
- Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Quality Connection Newsletter—a bimonthly newsletter focusing on QI and accreditation in state and territorial health departments
The field of QI in public health continues to evolve, and it is important that PI professionals have ongoing access to resources for career development.
These annual conferences are excellent training opportunities and provide networking with peer PI professionals:
- The Public Health Improvement Training provides interactive learning and skill-building sessions designed for different experience levels.
- The Open Forum for Quality and Innovation focuses on the most recent advances, inspirational stories, tools, and cutting-edge topics in the field of public health PI.
Certifications are also great ways to develop specific skills. A few certifications that would be helpful to build a PI-focused resume include the following:
- Lean Green (or Black) Belt for Healthcare, certified through the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers
- Certified Six Sigma Green (or Black) Belt, certified through the American Society for Quality
- Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality, certified through the National Association for Healthcare Quality
- Project Management Professional, certified through the Project Management Institute
Once a PI professional has gained some successes, leadership skills can be developed by sharing these accomplishments and lessons learned with others in the PI realm. A few avenues for sharing externally can occur through one-on-one consultations with neighboring health departments, presentations at state and national conferences, and online via webinars and online communities. It is also important to share PI work occurring in your agency, and as the PI leader, you can help support development of a communication channel (newsletter, etc.) that can help build the organization’s culture of quality.
Furthermore, for those who desire to obtain further education, the following degree programs may support a future in PI:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA), health care concentration
- Master of Health Administration (MHA)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA), health care concentration
- Master of Public Health (MPH), health care administration or policy concentration
- Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), leadership concentration
Many PI professionals are planners by nature and most likely have a personal strategic plan for their futures. For this reason, sometimes it helps to begin with the end in mind. So what does a career in PI look like? It is important to consider opportunities after obtaining 10 or more years of experience so that career development opportunities (see the previous section) can be maximized to prepare for the next career move. Here are some potential growth avenues PI experts have reckoned with:
If teaching and empowering others is a passion, academic institutions with public and community health programs and health care concentrations may be a desirable career move. Academic institutions and students gain immense value from hiring practitioners with hands-on experience.
If revamping or creating a public health PI program is exciting, consider doing this with a different state or local health department that may be in the early or beginning phases of its culture of quality. More than 2,500 health departments in the United States are awaiting a passionate PI professional!
If expanding your scope of work from working with one local health department or state health department is motivating, then working at a national public health organization can be a rewarding experience. Here are a few of these agencies:
If coaching and working independently is a passion, consulting may be the next step. Consultants can add value to agencies that cannot afford to hire full-time PI professionals or may simply need some guidance on how to improve a PI program. A few of the many avenues for consulting are listed as follows:
- Create your own consulting company.
- Join an existing consulting team.
- Collaborate with a PI health informatics (IT) company.
Whether this is the beginning or the end, fostering a career in PI is rewarding work. PI professionals have a unique set of skills that is valuable to incorporate into the future of public health. The PHQIX community is excited to be a part of your PI journey!
“About the Open Forum for QI in Public Health.” National Network of Public Health Institutes. Retrieved from https://nnphi.org/relatedarticle/open-forum-for-quality-improvement/
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“Project Management Professional (PMP).” Project Management Institute. Retrieved from https://www.pmi.org/certifications/types/project-management-pmp
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“Regional Public Health Training Centers.” Health Resources and Services Administration. Retrieved from https://bhw.hrsa.gov/grants/publichealth/regionalcenters
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Roberts, G., Kane, T., & Gorenfo, G. I Was Just Hired as a Performance Improvement Professional – Now What? Mon, 08/13/2018. Available at https://www.phqix.org/content/i-was-just-hired-performance-improvement-professional-now-what. Accessed 05/28/2023.