In an effort to help students of public health apply their expertise in the workplace and enable the nation to face the challenges posed by new epidemics, lawmakers yesterday passed the Public Health Specialists Act (公共衛生師法), touting it as the first of its kind in Asia.
Under the act, those who pass an exam for public health specialists and have received a certificate can practice the profession. Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher in public health who have graduated from a local university or college, or an equivalent foreign institution recognized by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, are eligible.
Those who have graduated from the aforementioned institutions, but whose major was medicine or subjects related to public health, must have obtained at least 18 credits or have worked in public health for at least three years before they can take the test, it states.
Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times
Local and foreign public health specialists must join a union, and abide by the nation’s laws and code of ethics governing public health specialists, as well as the charter of the national public health specialists union, the act states.
Public health specialists can work at medical facilities and long-term care facilities, or set up their own firm after practicing for two years, it states, while qualified medical personnel can double as public health specialists, but the latter must not perform the tasks of medical personnel.
The responsibilities of public health specialists include conducting environmental health risk assessments, pathological investigations, health surveys, food safety inspections and other tasks outlined by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in communities and public spaces, it states.
They should propose plans to prevent health risks and diseases, ensure food safety and boost public health, it states.
In the event of a major public health incident, emergency or contingency, the ministry can enlist a public health specialist to perform any of the aforementioned tasks, it states.
The specialist cannot reject the request without a valid reason; and those who contravene the regulation would face a fine of NT$20,000 to NT$100,000, and could be suspended for one month to one year.
Public health specialists who illegally lend their licenses to others would have their licenses revoked, the act states.
The passage of the act represents the fruition of a legislative effort that began in 2000 when the Taiwan Public Health Association began lobbying, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Su Chiao-hui (蘇巧慧) said after the bill passed its third reading.
The world has faced a host of new epidemics in the past 20 years, such as SARS, Ebola and COVID-19, she said, adding that the increasingly daunting challenges posed by these diseases highlight the importance of professional civil servants.
The nation’s first public health colleges were established in 1972, but unlike medical colleges they were not covered by an education, testing, internship and recruitment system, Su said.
The act has established a professional system for public health personnel without affecting the rights of those already working in the sector, she said.
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