Save on registration for APHA 2024! Join us in Minneapolis ×
 

Public Health Workforce

Our public health workforce supports healthy communities at the local, state, national and global levels.

They are the epidemiologists preventing infectious and chronic disease, policy analysts developing environmental health regulations and communications experts promoting healthy eating and safe driving.

These workers are essential to protect the general public, and we are facing a dangerous shortage. Local and state health departments need an additional 80,000 full-time employees just to provide basic public health services, let alone respond to major crises.

Photos of public health workers in action, stocking canned food on shelves, standing outside a government building, working in a lab and vaccinating a child

Take action for the future of public health


Public health threats don't wait, and neither can we. We must urge our elected officials to prioritize increased funding for the public health workforce.

Act now:

  • Urge your members of Congress to prioritize public health funding in fiscal year 2025 before the Subcommittee Markup on June 27, and let them know you want to see funding earmarked for Public Health AmeriCorps and other innovative workforce development models! 
  • Ask your representatives to support the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program to make public health careers more accessible to diverse professionals.
  • Learn about and support the Public Health Infrastructure Save Lives Act.
  • Educate yourself on workplace policies that can support a healthy workforce:
    • Advocate for paid sick leave, including mental health days.
    • Champion peer support and mental health services.
    • Advocate for diversity in recruitment efforts.
  • Invest in training that addresses implicit bias and cultural competency.

Watch Dr. Nadine Gracia of Trust for America’s Health speak on the critical need for sustained funding of the public health workforce:



Threats to the Public Health Workforce

Workforce Shortages
  • Inadequate staffing and high burnout have led to severe limitations in properly responding to public health emergencies and disease burden in recent years.
  • In the decade before the pandemic, we saw workforce reductions of nearly 10% in state health agencies and about 16% in local health departments.
  • During the pandemic, about 44% of public health workers surveyed by the CDC indicated they were thinking about leaving their job.
  • Beyond crisis intervention, a limited workforce creates challenges in implementing routine preventative screenings or community programs. For example, an additional 4,500 employees are needed at the state and local levels across the nation to support access and linkage to care.

Insufficient and Unstable Funding
  • To alleviate workforce shortages, the public health system needs sustained funding to properly recruit and retain its staff.
  • The U.S. has a long history of chronic underinvestment in the public health infrastructure, leaving the federal, state, local and tribal health systems and our communities vulnerable to emerging public health threats.
  • Unstable and insufficient funding for public health agencies can lead to understaffed departments and limit the health resources available to community members who need them most.
  • While there was a brief infusion of public health funding in response to COVID-19, federal COVID-19 funding in the amount of $4.3 billion was rescinded in the FY24 federal appropriations bill, meaning the funds would no longer be available to pass through to state and local health departments.
Skillset Gaps
  • The public health workforce must remain adaptable and able to develop new skills due to the constantly evolving nature of public health threats and challenges.
  • The workforce not only needs more specialized trained professionals in epidemiology, data analysis, biostatistics, health informatics, executive leadership, and policy development, but also more opportunities to develop strategic skills related to cross-sector partnerships, community engagement and communication to advance health equity.

Lack of Diversity
  • Community members deserve culturally competent public health professionals, like community health workers, who reflect the community they serve and can communicate information and provide services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
  • Public health workers of color tend to be underrepresented and underpaid.
  • Innovative solutions to recruiting and training a diverse workforce are critical to ensure a broad range of expertise and lived experience within public health agencies.


Solutions to Build a Skilled and Diverse Public Health Workforce

To address workforce challenges, we need innovative models that can help us build a robust and sustainable public health workforce.

Over the last few years, historic investments through the American Rescue Plan showed how funding leads to innovative solutions. The $5 billion invested in workforce at the state and local levels produced programs that emphasize workforce diversification, bringing new public health workers into communities.

Read about successful examples below and learn more in APHA's town hall on New Approaches to Investing in the Next Generation of Public Health Leaders.

Public Health AmeriCorps Makes a Difference

Public Health AmeriCorps, created by AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aims to train the next generation of public health leaders and address the nation's public health needs. Its goals include making a difference in local communities and creating pathways to public health careers. Members reflect the communities they serve, breaking down barriers and ensuring everyone has access to quality healthcare resources.

Public Health AmeriCorps members play a critical role in providing disease prevention education, promoting health initiatives, and supporting access to care, all of which strengthen our communities at a minimal cost. The Public Health AmeriCorps program is also significant in diversifying the public health workforce by recruiting younger and more diverse applicants.

Organizations at the state and local levels, such as Community Health Care Association of New York State and Baltimore Corps, support Public Health AmeriCorps by connecting corps members with host sites in local communities, recruiting community members with diverse backgrounds to fill gaps in the public health workforce.

Watch Orlando Reboredo of the Community Health Care Association of New York State highlight the wide range of roles filled by AmeriCorps members:

Watch Dr. Brandi Roberts of Baltimore Corps speak on the diversity of local AmeriCorps members:

CDC Boosts Public Health Capacity through Innovative Funding

CDC Public Health Infrastructure Grants built capacity for state, local, and territorial public health agencies to recruit, retain, support and train the public health workforce by providing five years of direct funding upfront and a flexible funding approach. Recognizing that evaluation is crucial for sustainability, the grants also support building an evidence base for the effectiveness of the programs. One part of this evaluation strategy is identifying promising practices for how to retain members of the workforce.

Like Public Health AmeriCorps, the PHIGs emphasize developing pathways for future public health professionals and cultivating partnerships with community-based organizations.

Learn more about CDC’s workforce programs.

Watch Dr. Andrea Young share workforce retention strategies implemented by PHIG grantees:

CDC Foundation Provides Surge Staffing

Through private and public funding, CDC Foundation supported surge staffing for health departments during the pandemic. Through the COVID-19 Corps and Workforce/Vaccine Initiative, CDC Foundation added more than 4,200 people to the public health workforce in all 50 states.

Watch Dr. Judy Monroe of CDC Foundation share history behind staffing support programs:

Indiana Provides State-Level Model for Workforce Innovation

In response to Indiana’s poor public health outcomes, Governor Eric Holcomb convened a public health commission in 2021 to review Indiana's public health system. The commission made 32 recommendations to improve public health that would address gaps in the workforce, funding, governance, infrastructure, services, and emergency preparedness.

The commission's report led to the allocation of $75 million in 2024 and $150 million in 2025 through the Health First Indiana initiative. This funding provides resources to local health departments, with a focus on flexibility and local decision-making to address community needs, especially in the state’s rural areas.

Watch Pam Pontones share Health First Indiana’s goals for the public health workforce:

PHIT4DC's Creative Local Approach to Workforce Development

PHIT4DC — Program for Public Health Informatics Technology District of Columbia — upskills public health professionals in the D.C. metro area by offering training programs in Public Health Informatics, or PHIT. This program helps address workforce shortages and aims to create a more diverse pool of public health professionals with tech skills. It offers training options from certificates to advanced degrees and connects graduates with potential employers in the D.C. region's healthcare system.

The PHIT4DC program aims to address the lack of diversity in PHIT through partnerships with local HBCUs — historically black colleges and universities — the University of the District of Columbia and Howard University.


Additional Resources

Continue to build your knowledge and expertise of critical public health workforce issues with these resources from APHA partners: