Taking the Initiative to Strengthen and Sustain Western Australia’s Public Health Workforce

This photo shows trainees and program coordination team with Western Australia’s Director General of Health, Dr David Russell-Weisz. Most of the people are standing in two rows in front of a screen. In the foreground is a computer screen showing at least six participants on a Zoom call.

Terry Slevin – PHAA

Continuing the theme of developing the Public Health Workforce, what follows is a focus on the WA Public Health Officer Training Program (PHOTP).  PHAA CEO, Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin, one of the volunteer Mentors in the program, drew on the program evaluation report to provide this update.

In response to the unprecedented demand for public health staff to respond to COVID-19 and recommendations of the National Contact Tracing (Finkel) and the WA Health Sustainable Health Reviews, WA Health is piloting a PHOTP.  The program aims to strengthen the current and build a sustainable future public health workforce. It was launched by Dr Andrew (Andy) Robertson, WA Chief Health Officer on 9 April 2021.

The nine-month pilot program supports WA Health staff employed in the baseline or surge COVID-19 response workforce through teaching and learning activities and a mentorship program. The pilot program provides a foundation for a three-year program that will ensure long-term public health workforce sustainability.

The curriculum is adapted from NSW Health’s Public Health Officer Training Program and the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine Program It  comprises of 10 competency areas:

·         Professional Practice ·         Policy
·         Management and Leadership ·         Health Promotion and Prevention
·         Epidemiology ·         Evaluation and Evidence
·         Communicable Diseases ·         Cultural Competence and Aboriginal Health
·         Risk Assessment and Management ·         Health System Financing and Economics


Trainees in the pilot program have diverse backgrounds (including nursing, epidemiology and medicine) and are employed in a variety of metropolitan and regional health services.

The training program delivers weekly interactive learning activities that can be attended either virtually or in person.  Activities are focused on themes relating to the curriculum competencies and may be delivered as a placement, lecture, fieldtrip, workshop or simulation. The program includes a health leader speaker series that features a presentation and QNA session by a prominent ‘Health Leader’ in which they outline their career journey, role in the Australian health system. The focus of the series is to promote innovation and networking and encourage trainees to extend their existing leadership skills. Health Leaders who have kindly participated include:

  • Dr David Russell-Weisz – Director General, WA Health
  • Ms Wendy Casey, Director of Aboriginal Health, Western Australia
  • Jim McGinty, Former Attorney General and Minister for Health (2003 – 2008)


A mid-program evaluation indicated a high level of satisfaction with the program on the part of trainees as shown in these comments:

“It has been so great and has already delivered far above my expectations.”

“Thank you for the many sessions and opportunities we have been provided. I feel very fortunate to have access to the materials we have.”

Mentors also expressed a high level of satisfaction with the program.

WAPHOTP trainee Whitney Melville and her mentor, Emeritus Professor Mike Daube (and Mike’s dog - Dr Olivia Doll, Perth’s Smartest Dog!)

“It is a real privilege to be part of the WAPHOTP mentoring program. WA has a rich history of public health pioneers, leaders, researchers, advocates and contributors at all levels, and there are important roles for all of us to play. I have benefited enormously from the support of mentors at all stages of my career, and I hope that those of us who have been around for a while can help in providing similar levels of support to the next generations.” Emeritus Professor Mike Daube


Upon completion of the nine-month pilot program, it is anticipated that this pilot program will continue in 2022 with a new cohort of trainees. The program will then be established as a three-year program in 2023 in which trainees will be employed to undertake six 6-month rotations in a variety of public health workplaces to enable achievement of a wide range of competencies. For further information contact WAPHOTP@health.wa.gov.au

It is important to note that the WA PHOTP drew from, and was appreciative of input from NSW Health, where a PHOTP has been in continuous operation for 30 years.

PHAA looks forward to seeing the positive impact of the program on public health workforce sustainability in Western Australia.  We also hope that WA Health confirms an ongoing investment in expanding this program and that other jurisdictions and the Commonwealth will share their public health workforce development initiatives in Intouch.

Image: The trainees and program coordination team with Western Australia’s Director General of Health, Dr David Russell-Weisz (centre, back row).

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