Following 10 years in environmental health practice, Charles D. (Chuck) Treser was recruited to join the faculty of the University of Washington (UW) Department of Environmental Health to lead a project to develop a system for assuring the continuing competencies of environmental health practitioners. The faculty began by assessing the training needs of environmental health specialists around the nation. Gathering data from examinations, and through interviews with field practitioners and supervisors, Mr. Treser's team identified gaps in training that led to continuing education modules geared towards practitioners' specific needs.
"This was the '80s and many practitioners did not feel competent about emerging issues like chemical toxicity and hazardous wastes. So, we had to go back and train these specialists in basic chemistry, microbiology, toxicology, and hazardous waste management," says Mr. Treser. Even more important were the findings related to areas such as communications and administrative law and process.
Communication has been a continuing interest throughout Mr. Treser's career. One of his recent projects compares the knowledge and skills desired by public sector employers with the curriculum content of environmental health programs offered by accredited schools of public health in five states.
"We anticipated going in that most employers seeking a graduate of environmental health programs were not going to be as concerned with the scientific or technical knowledge as with the graduate's ability to serve the community as an agent of change," says Mr. Treser. He explains that employers assume that graduates know the science, but in order to perform well, they need to be able to communicate effectively with the media and the public, translating complex scientific knowledge into a language that everyone can understand.
"Can you communicate? Can you assess what's going on in a community? Can you help educate and mobilize a community? One of the big problems has been the ability to communicate what we're doing and why it's important to an individual, a community, and to the politician," says Mr. Treser. The study bore out their assumptions and the results were published in the scientific literature, which was the critical value of the study.
Influenced by Mr. Treser's findings, UW faculty are preparing their graduates for the challenges of public health communication. The undergraduate program has always offered a technical report writing class. Now, however, graduate students are also being encouraged to enroll in communication courses or otherwise improve their written and oral communication skills. "If a mentor or preceptor sees a weakness in either oral or written communication skills, he or she will encourage the student to take courses with an emphasis on language skills," says Mr. Treser.
At the UW, Mr. Treser works closely with undergraduates. As senior lecturer and an undergraduate program adviser in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, he provides students with a solid educational base for both continuing graduate work or for employment in government, nonprofit, or private organizations. He supervises the internships of undergraduate students at various agencies. Recently, his interns with local health departments have examined hazardous-waste management programs and commercial food-waste recycling.
Mr. Treser's long career in environmental health has garnered him several lifetime achievement awards including the Washington State Public Health Association's Tom Drummey Award and the American Public Health Association (APHA) Environment Section's Distinguished Service Award. Mr. Treser was also instrumental in establishing the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice at the UW, serves as a mentor for fellows in the Environmental Health Public Health Leadership Institute, and is a member of the APHA Executive Board. He is the principal investigator on a cooperative agreement, designed to increase the number of educational programs and students in environmental health, between the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), National Center for Environmental Health, and the Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs.