Public Health Workforce Shortages Imperil Nation's Health

Center for Studying Health System Change
Research Brief No. 4
April 16, 2008
Draper, D.A., Hurley, R.E., and J. Lauer

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, interest in the state of America’s public health system spiked, especially related to emergency preparedness. Significant new federal funding flowed to state and local agencies to bolster public health activities. But the spotlight on shoring up the nation’s public health system has faded, and the public appears unaware of escalating threats to such basic services as disease surveillance. Local health departments face a mounting workforce crisis as they struggle to recruit, train and retain qualified workers to meet their communities’ needs, according to a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

Factors influencing the workforce shortage include inadequate funding, uncompetitive salaries and benefits, an exodus of retiring workers, insufficient supply of trained workers, and lack of enthusiasm for public health as a career choice. Local public health agencies have pursued strategies to improve workforce monitoring and planning, recruitment, retention, development and training, and academic linkages. However, little progress has been made to alleviate the shortages. Without additional support to address workforce issues, including the recruitment of the next generation of public health leaders, it is unlikely that local public health agencies will succeed in meeting growing community need, a situation potentially imperiling the public’s health.

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