166: PH Workforce Opportunities

Dr. Leslie Dauphin from the CDC discusses the nation’s public health workforce and the way forward; Emi Chutaro, Executive Director of the Pacific Island Health Officers Association, offers details of a new study to better understand how to address...

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Dr. Leslie Dauphin from the CDC discusses the nation’s public health workforce and the way forward; Emi Chutaro, Executive Director of the Pacific Island Health Officers Association, offers details of a new study to better understand how to address non-communicable diseases in island jurisdictions; and the first ever conference on public health and dementia caregiving is set for June 14th and 15th in Minneapolis.

CDC Webpage: Strengthening U.S. Public Health Infrastructure, Workforce, and Data Systems

PIHOA Study: PCDC/PIHOA Regional NCD Response Evaluation

Conference Registration: The Public Health Opportunities and Challenges of Dementia Caregiving

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, April 27th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Public health is seriously understaffed. Even before the pandemic, a lack of investment resulted in thousands of positions going unfilled. Emergency funding and response to COVID-19 has given public health agencies an opportunity to address some of those staffing shortfalls, but there's still work to be done.

We're talking about the nation's public health workforce and the way forward today with Dr. Leslie Dauphin from the CDC. It's the morning conversation.

There have been historic investments in the public health workforce over the last two years because of the pandemic. What ought public health officials across the states, the territories, the local jurisdictions do with that money? How should they apply these funds? What should their focus be?


So, one of the biggest challenges that we face in our public health system is really staffing. We do not have enough public health professionals to do the important work that's needed to protect the health of our nation.

We've had decades of underinvestment in our public health workforce—actually, according to Trust for American's Health, over the past decade alone the public health workforce has shrunk by approximately 56,000 positions, and this is primarily due to funding.

So, now we're in a place where we actually have these investments. We need to hire a minimum of 80,000 full-time employees to provide the minimum public health services for our nation. The workforce is an essential component of our infrastructure, so we need more highly qualified public health professionals.

So really, to answer your question, the opportunity that we have is really to use resources—particularly from the American Rescue Plan—to recruit and hire the workforce that we're going to need to prepare us for the future. This is one of our greatest opportunities. These resources will help us address workforce staffing shortages to get the staffing that we need to protect the health of our nation.

At the state and local level, we've known for some time—and this was really highlighted throughout the pandemic—that agencies differ in their needs. Communities differ in their composition as well as their availability and access to essential public health services. So when we're thinking about where they should focus efforts, we really need to take the lessons that have been learned throughout the pandemic and assess specific workforce needs. Working with partners, efforts at the state, local, and territory level should be focused on determining what is needed to build, train, and sustain a workforce that will meet their current needs as well as to be prepared for the next public health crisis.


Thinking about building the workforce, the pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in the number of students, people of all ages expressing interest in public health careers. What does that mean when you think about this effort? How does that contribute?


In some ways, this is an exciting time for public health. With these historic investments in the infrastructure that I mentioned along with greater visibility on the role of public health and keeping our nation healthy and safe, it's not surprising that there's more evidence of greater interest in pursuing these careers. One component of our workforce investments is expansion of the pipelines for our workforce of the future, such as our internships and fellowship programs.

As I mentioned, we've learned a lot through the pandemic. We can leverage those lessons when expanding our existing internships and fellowship programs, as well as when we're building new programs. So as the next generation of public health professionals complete their training and education, we will not only have increased their opportunities for internships and fellowship programs, but also these programs will be better—better from what we've learned, also having a broader evidence-based practice.

So what this means for the next generation is that we really have great cause to be optimistic about the future of public health.


We've been talking amongst ourselves the last two years, thinking about ways to improve the workforce, to bolster it, to help it get through this crisis that we've all been suffering through. But what about looking outside? Is there an example—are there places we could look outside of public health to get ideas for ways to address the workforce needs that we have right now?


Oh, absolutely. You know, one of the interesting ways that the workforce has changed over the past two years is actually how we work and where we work. We've learned how to leverage the expertise, technology, and tools in ways that have allowed us to work efficiently throughout the pandemic. When we're thinking about models for sort of this post-pandemic workforce and workplace, we should most certainly look to evidence-based best practices.

There are several industries in the private sector that have been doing this for some time and have established models that have worked. So I don't name a specific sector, but I will say it's important to imply those evidence-based practices and ways to ensure that we are able to continue to provide services to protect our communities. And this may not be consistent across public health because our public health agencies differ in their needs, but there's certainly things that we can learn from what's been applied throughout this pandemic.


Get the latest on the CDC's plans to invest in the public health workforce using the link in the show notes.


Public health leaders in the Pacific Islands have launched a study to better understand how to address non-communicable diseases as a way to head off future outbreaks.

Emi Chutaro is executive director of the Pacific Island Health Officers Association.


We really are looking at focusing on efforts to improve the healthcare infrastructure; to train and capacity build and expand the healthcare workforce; to look at improving, you know, data information, data management, information systems so that we can have better early warning systems; we can also have better monitoring of whether interventions are actually working in more real time, as opposed to sort of, you know, after the fact and then, by that point, it's too late.

We really want to be able to be a lot more sort of resilient in our healthcare infrastructure, in our systems, by being really much more targeted and more effective and more efficient. And that's—I think that's where when we're trying to get at.


While the study is just getting underway, you can learn more about it by reading the RFP that was used to find a partner for the work. There's a link to the document in the show notes.


Finally today, a reminder that the first ever conference on public health and dementia caregiving is less than two months away. The gathering is set for June 14th and 15th in Minneapolis. Sign up for the conference with the link in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to follow the show on your podcast app. And if you're on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn, we'd love a shout out.

That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Emi Chutaro MSc

Executive Director, PIHOA

Leslie Dauphin PhD

Director, CSELS, CDC