Public Health Transformation: A Roadmap and Call to Action

6 Min Read

Jun 02, 2023


Kevin Kovach, Dr.P.H., M.Sc.
Transforming Public Health for the 21st Century Bridging Theory

With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Public Health Infrastructure Grant, public health leaders have a tremendous opportunity to transform the public health system. Urgent change is needed to address the mounting threats to America’s health and create a public health system that meets the needs of its people.

Transforming Public Health for the 21st Century: Bridging Theory to Practice is a blog series that will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by the public health sector and will introduce a roadmap for transformation. Sign up here to receive these summaries and more, and also follow KHI on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Learn more about the series on our archive pagePlease feel free to share your feedback or suggestions with us by emailing

Relatively large-scale change is required to create the public health system needed for 21st century health challenges. Life expectancy has declined in the United States in recent years. Furthermore, U.S. life expectancy trails behind most other high-income countries, even though we spend vastly more money on health care. We’ve also experienced relatively limited progress in advancing health equity. There have been long-standing health inequities based on race, wealth, and geographic location. We’re also seeing a wave of new threats. Pandemics, the youth mental health crisis, and deaths of despair are just some of the emerging threats facing public health. These issues alone would warrant change. However, compounding these issues is a burnt-out public health workforce, with many established professionals and graduating students largely opting out of governmental public health service. We need to solve these problems because the art and science of public health is essential to addressing these complex adaptive challenges. The public health discipline is well positioned to address the root causes of these issues through authentic collaboration with communities and partners, and through the application of scientific principles and evidence-based practice.

The goal of the Transforming Public Health blog is to inspire, inform, and support public health change makers in Kansas and beyond. Its purpose is to provide a venue for ideas around public health transformation, strategy, innovation, and leadership. It will help to shine a light on unspoken issues and inconvenient truths, while also recognizing the dedication and value of public health professionals. There are great minds working on transforming public health. From Health in All Policies and evidence-based practice to health equity and community engagement, there is no shortage of innovative ideas coming from public health. But what might we gain if we also looked outside the public health discipline and brought in lessons from other fields? Experts from business, public administration, and other fields have made groundbreaking contributions to strategy, change management, innovation, and leadership. In public health’s time of change, we cannot afford to leave ideas on the table.

The first posts in this blog will focus on fleshing out a roadmap for planning, evaluating and leading transformational efforts in public health (Figure 1). The premise of this roadmap is that we need to create a 21st century public health system. Public health needs to become more aligned with the needs of communities and the challenges they face in order to become more viable and reverse the trend towards minimization that we have faced over the past several decades. In our efforts to transform, how will we create robust organizational capacity, economies of scale, and collaborative advantage among our many public health organizations? Many health departments are already leading in these areas. But there are wide disparities in public health capacity. How can we make sure that communities aren’t systematically excluded from public health services that meet their needs? We must also recognize that creating change, especially with the resources available to the public health system, may be uncomfortable. As we strive towards change, we must also ask ourselves, how can we create a climate conducive to change. How can we reduce complacency? How can we manage change? Finally, we need an inspiring vision for public health transformation that speaks to all the key stakeholders. Communities, taxpayers, elected officials, and public health professionals all need to know that they will get something they value from public health transformation. It is crucial for us to effectively communicate with them using language and concepts that resonate with their concerns and priorities. By connecting with their specific needs and interests, we can foster a deeper understanding and engagement in the process of public health transformation. Some of the questions that will be addressed through the Transforming Public Health blog series include:

  • What does it mean to be strategic in public health?
  • What steps can create a sense of urgency and mitigate complacency toward change?
  • How to lead and manage change across the public health system.
  • What does it mean to be transformational and what paths are there to transformation?
  • How to build efficient and effective organizational capacity for public health.
  • How to create synergy and collaborative advantage across the public health system.
  • How to talk about our vision for public health transformation in a way that resonates with our key stakeholders.

By following this roadmap, we can better navigate the challenges ahead and build an effective system that improves health for all. As public health professionals, it is our collective responsibility to drive change and shape the public health system for the 21st century. We hope that you find this blog series informative and inspiring and look forward to seeing what public health change makers, like yourself, do to build a better public health system for the future.

Figure 1.  A Roadmap Toward a 21st Century Public Health System

Logo: A Roadmap Toward a 21st Century Public Health System

About Kansas Health Institute

The Kansas Health Institute supports effective policymaking through nonpartisan research, education and engagement. KHI believes evidence-based information, objective analysis and civil dialogue enable policy leaders to be champions for a healthier Kansas. Established in 1995 with a multiyear grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, KHI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization based in Topeka.

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