Today’s theme for National Public Health Week (NPHW) is “Public Health Workforce: Essential to our Future.” Our workforce is indeed essential and the need to recruit, train, and develop a new generation of leaders, who can respond to our nation’s public health needs, is ever present.
Specifically, strong public health systems are the first line of defense in a well-functioning health care system. For our nation’s health care system to function in an effective way, we must have skilled and well-supported public health and health education workers (Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework, 2016).
History of the Public Health Workforce
For decades, workforce development has fallen behind due to underinvestment and decreased funding, particularly to our local and state health departments (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 2021). As a result, we are facing serious consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic; including, insufficient systems for data assessment and monitoring of workforce needs and critical need for more diverse public health and health education workers that can serve our diverse communities.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on the Public Health Workforce
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the urgency for improving our public health infrastructure through investing in expanding a skilled workforce for our future. Recently, we’ve seen increased funding from sources such as the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund and the American Rescue Plan, and these resources are being used towards workforce development activities within agencies like CDC’s Division of Scientific Education and Professional Development.
Support of such workforce development programs is needed to effectively collect and analyze workforce data on our future needs, to improve our IT systems for future activities, and to evaluate evidence-based programs for expansion of successful initiatives.
Moreover, we need Congressional action to financially support our public health infrastructure.Elizabeth Chaney, Former SOPHE Communications Trustee
The American Public Health Association “action alert” urging support of the public health investments in the Build Back Better Act needs YOUR support. Go to https://apha.org/Policies-and-Advocacy/Advocacy-for-Public-Health/Action-Alerts/budget to ask your Senators to support this act to improve health of our communities.
SOPHE’s Dedication to the Essential Workforce
Lastly, we need to support and work toward expanding diversity in our public health and health education workforce. Enhancing diversity among our workforce will better equip us to address health inequities and disparities in the populations in which we serve (Coronado, Beck, Shah, Young, Sellers & Leider, 2021).
Strategy 1 in SOPHE’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan is to “strengthen health education and promotion capacity to achieve health equity,” and efforts to expand leadership development for members of SOPHE from diverse backgrounds is currently underway. SOPHE’s Board of Trustees have developed intentional strategies for enhancing inclusivity within the organization.
Under the direction of Dr. Antonio Gardner, SOPHE’s Board of Trustees recently approved SOPHE Project Leaders in Equity and Diversity Fellowship Program. This one-year fellowship program will prepare members of SOPHE from diverse backgrounds for leadership within the organization. The primary goal is to expand diversity within the leadership of SOPHE and to create an educational pipeline in public health education for future generations. More work needs to be done in this area for us to continue to foster a healthy public health and health education workforce.
Elizabeth Chaney, PhD, MCHES® | Former SOPHE Communications Trustee
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (2021). Public Health Workforce Development. Accessed March 23, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/workforce/index.html.
Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future; National Academy of Medicine, Secretariat. The Neglected Dimension of Global Security: A Framework to Counter Infectious Disease Crises. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016 May 16. 1, Introduction.
Coronado, F., Beck, A., Shah, G., Young, J., Sellers, K. & Leider, J.(2020). Understanding the dynamics of diversity in the public health workforce. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2020 Jul-Aug; 26(4): 389–392. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001075