Recent data from a new survey of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) indicates workforce trends have not improved over the last four years. The state public health agency workforce is graying at a higher rate than the rest of the American workforce and continues to be affected by workforce shortages creating greater challenges for states in responding to continued threats to the public’s health.
Results of the 2007 ASTHO survey indicate:
A graying workforce
- The average age of a public health worker in state government is 47.
- The average age of new hires in state health agencies is 40 years old.
- 20% of the average State Health Agency’s workforce will be eligible to retire within three years.
- By 2012, over 50% of some state health agency workforces will be eligible to retire.
A continued shortage of workers
- A high shortage of nurses in public health remains a key concern.
- Other public health classifications including epidemiologists, laboratorians, and environmental health workers continue to be affected by shortages in most states.
- Other classifications such as nutritionists, dieticians, public health physicians and social workers were also identified by states as emerging classes affected by worker shortages.
Barriers in overcoming the crisis
Certain barriers remain in place to improving the demographics of the state public health workforce such as:
- Budget Restraints.
- Lack of Competitive wages for public health careers.
- Lack of understanding among recent graduates as to the benefits of public health careers.
- Lack of visibility about the importance of public health careers.
- Bureaucratic processes in selection and hiring qualified candidates.
The U.S. governmental public health workforce is a vital component to improving the status of the nation’s health. The health of the American people depends upon the proper workforce in place to respond to continued threats, such as bioterrorism, natural disasters, continued rise in obesity rates, chronic diseases, food-borne outbreaks, and HIV/AIDS.
ASTHO supports continued efforts to attract younger professionals and new graduates into pursuing careers in governmental public health, such as scholarship and loan repayment programs. Improving the public’s health requires an adequate supply of competent public health professionals.
ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the state and territorial public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. Territories, and the District of Columbia. ASTHO’s members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy, and to assuring excellence in state-based public health practice.