Public Health Worker Shortage


From the Dean
It’s federal budget “mark-up” time, and that means that just about everyone in the country is in Washington DC to speak with their Congressional delegation about important issues on the national agenda. Many of the deans of the 40 accredited schools of public health were there including yours truly. There were several major issues on our collective agenda, but chief among them is public health workforce development. A study by the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) released last week shows that the nation faces a shortfall of public health workers that will worsen by 2020 unless the nation takes action to close the gap.
In Minnesota, this means a shortfall of some 7,000 workers. Thus public health joins all the other health professions in projected workforce shortages in the coming decade. What’s are the causes and what’s to be done? The causes are many, but I believe chief factors include an aging public health workforce (23 percent will be eligible to retire by 2012); the continued lack of US investment in public health (about 1 percent nationally of what we invest in health care overall); and the rising cost of health professional training.
On the cost factor, the ASPH supports the approach of a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Hagel (R-Nebraska) and Durbin (D-Illinois). It would establish scholarship and loan payback programs worth more than $200 million per year to help students defray the cost of public health training if they agree to serve for a certain period of time in the field. Special bonuses would be available for those who agree to work in under-served areas like Greater Minnesota and 80 percent of the funds would go toward state and local public health workforce needs. Many that I spoke to in the Minnesota delegation are supporters of the approach. Now is the time to let your Congresspersons know what you think.
By the way, I’ll be joining local public health representatives on Minnesota Public Radio (91.1 FM) this morning from 9-10 a.m. to discuss the issues of public health and other health professional work force shortages. For more information about the public health agenda, go to the ASPH Web site at:
–John R. Finnegan, Jr., Ph.D