Building a Public Health System for the 21st Century

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Photo courtesy of the Harris County Public Health Department

Approximately 1 hour time to complete

Earn a record of completion

Audio recording + long-form content format

This course examines public health challenges that will present threats to our homeland security long after COVID-19 fades from our daily lives. Pandemics, health equity, food security, and increasing violence will continue to test our decentralized public health system and impact our daily lives. For almost half a century we have been warned that state and local public health departments are not adequately funded to handle day-to-day operations, much less new and emerging threats. COVID-19 demonstrated how poorly our public health system was prepared for a prolonged disaster. The numbers of cases and deaths are still growing as this self-study course is being developed in December 2021, and the number of COVID-related deaths will soon surpass one million.  

There are five modules in this course. The first module examines vulnerabilities in our international public health system and how those vulnerabilities endanger the entire world’s population. The second module looks at health equity in America and explains why historical health disparities threaten our homeland security. In the third module, we examine health policy in America, and the positive ways policy initiatives can improve the health status of our population. The fourth module looks at how our lives may look after the pandemic. The fifth and final module offers some ideas for how we might rebuild our public health system to address both emerging infectious diseases, recurring natural disasters, and social determinants of health. The course completes the series of six public health learning courses that provide a comprehensive understanding of public health for the homeland security professional. 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, public health will likely be restructured and redefined. Our U.S. system of public health federalism failed badly during this pandemic and the next pandemic will require a system where public health can influence public policy decisions. This course will focus on how to configure a new public health system that has both the expertise and the capacity for dealing with infectious disease pandemics, natural disasters, and bioterrorism.

Learning Objectives

After you complete the five modules, you will understand why public health struggled to meet the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. You will see inside the public health system and begin to understand how our underfunded, decentralized public health system is ill-suited for a world threatened by dangerous, infectious diseases and growing numbers of death and illnesses associated with social determinants of health. 

At the end of the course, the self-study participant should understand how the U.S. public health system can be reconfigured or reinvented to ensure a healthy nation in times of well-being as well as in times of crisis.  

Module 1: The International Public Health Problem

Module 2: Health Equity—A Homeland Security Problem

About the Instructor


William Pilkington was a local public health officer for four decades. Currently, he works at North Carolina Central University, an HBCU, doing research on racial disparities in health care. Pilkington holds an M.A. in Security Studies from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) at the Naval Postgraduate School, completed the CHDS Executive Leaders Program, and was a Founding Scholar in the CHDS Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security (HSx) Program. Pilkington also holds a D.P.A. and M.P.A. from the University of Southern California.

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