More than 250000 Additional Public Health Workers Needed by 2020 to Avert Public Health Crisis
The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) released on Feb. 27 a first of its kind assessment of the crisis which found that more than 250,000 additional public health workers are needed by 2020. The Drexel University School of Public Health, a member of ASPH, added that Pennsylvania consistently ranks among the lowest of all states in the number of public health professionals per capita and is working to help counties in the southeastern section of the state create public health departments. The school has also established many partnerships within the City of Philadelphia that are designed to address violence, child hunger and other public health demands.
According to ASPH, the national crisis is a culmination of both documented and forecasted shortages of public health physicians, public health nurses, epidemiologists, health care educators, and administrators and other contributing factors like an expected spike in retirement. In fact, 23 percent of the current workforce – almost 110,000 workers – will become eligible to retire during the next presidential term.
“Public health professionals are in short supply,” said Marla J. Gold, MD, Dean, Drexel University School of Public Health. “As public health resources are constantly being pulled to address natural disasters, emergency preparedness and disease prevention, the Drexel School of Public Health is engaged in increasing the recruitment and training of public health professionals.”
According to the ASPH, citing a National Center for Health Workforce Information and Analysis report from 2000, Pennsylvania’s current public health workforce is estimated at 4,465. ASPH projects that Pennsylvania’s workforce by 2020 would need to be more than 28,000 to effectively address the state’s public health concerns.
Drexel University School of Public Health is taking an active role in helping to address tomorrow’s public health demands in Pennsylvania by working with counties to establish public health departments. Currently, only 6 of the 67 counties statewide have established departments of public health. Drexel has worked with coalitions of health care providers and community-based groups in Lancaster, York, Adams, Dauphin and Berks counties to enhance public health services through public and private programs designed to address each county's specific concerns.
In Philadelphia, the School of Public Health just recently received a $750,000 grant from the Scattergood Foundation to establish the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice. Led by Dr. John A. Rich, who was awarded the 2006 MacArthur (Genius) Award for his work on urban trauma and violence, the Center will focus on violence prevention and trauma. The School of Public Health also directs The Philadelphia GROW Project, which helps low income children and their families achieve normal weight gain, good nutrition and proper development.
In addition, researchers at Drexel have partnered with organizations across the city to address healthcare inequality, emergency preparedness, environmental safety, community health and more.
“Tackling the health implications of tobacco use, heart disease, obesity and physical inactivity, not to mention the threat of globally spreading infectious diseases, depends entirely on the availability of a well-trained public health workforce,” said Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of the UCLA School of Public Health and chair of the ASPH Workforce Taskforce. “Unless we act now to recruit and train an additional 250,000 public health professionals, we will soon be ill-equipped to identify looming public health crisises and respond decisively.”
Leading public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Public Health Association, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the Institute of Medicine, agree that the current workforce is inadequate to meet the needs of the U.S. and global populations, according to the ASPH. Given the growing complexity of public health challenges, more specialists will need to be trained in additional public health sub-disciplines, according to ASPH. Furthermore, in the era of globalization, the U.S. public health workforce needs to be adequately prepared to handle health threats that often arise from beyond our borders.
“These shortages can impact every community. A shortage of environmental regulators can allow lead paint and asbestos to linger in homes. Food and toy recalls can become more frequent and possibly more severe. Access to quality healthcare for vulnerable families is harder. With fewer resources it makes it harder for any community to prepare for natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina,” said Dennis P. Andrulis, PhD, MPH, Associate Dean of Research, Drexel University School of Public Health.
In order to address these significant shortages, ASPH is calling for an increased federal investment in public health education and training in addition to the coordination of a centralized enumeration effort to adequately understand current and future workforce needs.
“An appropriate number of well-trained public health professionals is critical in order to safeguard the health of our nation and our world,” said Dr. Harrison Spencer, president and chief executive officer of ASPH. “Our government and our schools of public health play a critical role in preventing the forecasted shortage.”
Additionally, the report indicates that increased recruitment, training and fellowship programs, financial aid assistance and expanded graduate-level opportunities are among the most urgent needs for averting this looming crisis. According to the analysis, Schools of Public Health will have to graduate three times as many public health workers over the next 12 years in order to meet national healthcare needs in 2020.
A complete copy of the assessment is available on-line at www.asph.org/shortage.
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