1. Li, Yang MPH, MS
  2. Hsu, Edbert B. MD, MPH
  3. Davis, Xiaohong M. PhD, MS, MA
  4. Stennies, Gail M. MD, MPH
  5. Pham, Nhu N. MPH
  6. Fisher, Mary C. PhD, MS
  7. Pearson, Juliana L. MA
  8. Barnett, Daniel J. MD, MPH
  9. Trigoso, Silvia M. MPH
  10. Podgornik, Michelle N. MPH, MSLIS
  11. Hunter, David W. MPH, MSW
  12. Vagi, Sara J. PhD


Objective: We aimed to understand the current training environment for developing public health emergency response leaders and highlight facilitators and barriers in accessing targeted training.


Design: We designed 4 focus groups to gather organizational perspectives on public health emergency response leadership development. Discussions were recorded, transcribed, coded, and analyzed to synthesize key themes.


Setting: Focus groups were convened at the 2019 Preparedness Summit (March 27-28) in St Louis, Missouri.


Participants: Twenty-three public health professionals from 9 Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Cooperative Agreement award recipient jurisdictions and 12 local health departments participated.


Main Outcome Measures: We examined the current availability, relevance, specificity, and utility of educational content and delivery modalities. Facilitators and barriers were identified as opportunities to improve training access.


Results: Generic emergency management training is considered important and widely available but with limited application in public health practice. Existing leadership training opportunities in public health emergency response are limited and not widely known. While organizational support and accessible training facilitate participation, resource constraints (ie, funding, time, and staff) exist as key barriers. In addition, frequent staff turnover and attrition that result in loss of institutional knowledge likely hinder effective public health emergency responses.


Conclusion: Effective public health emergency response depends on capable leaders not only well versed in specialized technical disciplines and practices but also familiar with-or preferably fluent in-emergency management principles and functions. This study demonstrated that well-aimed training strategies and organizational planning are essential in developing public health emergency response leaders. Specifically, leadership development may accrue considerable benefit from a standardized training curriculum. In addition, scalable training programs developed through public, private, and academic partnerships may lessen resource demands on individual organizations to facilitate training access. Finally, training practicums (eg, mentoring, shadowing) may provide opportunities to facilitate active learning and preserve institutional knowledge through leadership transitions.