Building public health leaders’ emotional intelligence and resilience is key: first WHO–ISS European Public Health Leadership Course

“There is no better time than now to talk about public health and the need to up our game when it comes to promoting the leadership of public health professionals,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, in a recent address. Dr Kluge was speaking to more than 40 public health professionals from the southern and eastern parts of the WHO European Region who completed a 3-week leadership course organized by WHO/Europe and the Italian National Institute of Health (ISS).

The European Programme of Work 2020–2025 – “United Action for Better Health in Europe” clearly underscores the need for better-prepared future public health leaders. Backed by this vision and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, the first-ever WHO–ISS European Public Health Leadership Course sought to equip public health professionals with the skills and competencies they need to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s public health challenges.

“If we want to guarantee the ability of our health systems to provide high-quality care, we must support and increase the capacity of future public health leaders across the European Region, building their emotional intelligence and resilience so that they serve our communities better,” added Professor Silvio Brusaferro, President of the ISS.

The importance of public health leadership
Emerging global health challenges and health inequalities amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic demand swift responses. At the same time, gaps in public health-system resilience and preparedness highlight the need for advanced competencies, including evidence-based practices and effective communication to tackle infodemics and misinformation.

“Transparency, data and open communication that build trust in science are at the heart of any successful public health response to an emergency, and equally critical to successful delivery on all the other outstanding health issues,” noted Dr Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, Director of WHO/Europe’s Division of Country Health Policies and Systems.

The recent health crises have made it clear that the world needs public health leaders with broad vision and deep knowledge working in environments that enable their professional development. They must be able to learn from implementation science, build trust through transparency and harness the power of networks.

“In a time of turmoil, public health leaders must act in partnership, engaging with all members of society, politicians, health-care experts, scientists, patients and the general public,” said Dr João Breda, Head of the WHO Office on Quality of Care and Patient Safety in Athens, Greece. “Understanding the perspectives of others and including them in every decision are necessary steps to build trust and arrive at impactful solutions,” he stressed.

The European Public Health Leadership Course
The 3-week Leadership Course took place from 7 to 25 November 2022. The first and last weeks were conducted through an online platform, while the second week was in person in Rome, Italy, to allow participants to meet, network and collaborate with leadership experts to develop their skills. Together they explored key leadership competencies including communication, problem-solving, mindfulness, awareness of and responses to health inequalities, negotiation, and conflict management.

The participants’ dedication, reflected in their continuous engagement throughout the Leadership Course, demonstrated that public health professionals are eager to learn, advance and create a world with people at the centre of public health policies and systems.

“With a whole new generation of public leaders coming up, the future seems more hopeful than ever,” concluded Dr Kluge.

While this year’s participation was by nomination only, the next edition of the Leadership Course, which will be held in fall 2023, will be open to all public health professionals who wish to apply.