ASPH: 250,000 Public Health Workers Needed by 2020

Feb. 29, 2008
According to an assessment conducted by the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH), the United States needs more than 250,000 additional public health workers by 2020 to avoid a major public health crisis.

ASPH warns that an approaching shortage of public health physicians, public health nurses, epidemiologists, health care educators and administrators in the coming years can leave the nation vulnerable to disease, bioterror and health threats.

“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 ASPH’s 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 crises and respond decisively."

ASPH cites a diminishing public health force throughout the nation, pointing out that there were 50,000 fewer public health workers in 2000 than in 1980. A spike in retirement among current workers also contributes to the problem. ASPH estimates 23 percent of the current workforce, or almost 110,000 workers, will be eligible to retire by 2012.

According to the analysis, schools of public health must graduate three times as many public health workers over the next 12 years in order to meet national health care needs in 2020.

Trained Professionals “Critical” to Nation’s Health

This shortage will affect the public health field’s ability to address the nation’s growing complexity of public health challenges. Furthermore, in the face of globalization, ASPH points out that the U.S. public health workforce must also be prepared to manage health threats originating from other parts of the world.

"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, ASPH president and CEO. "Our government and our schools of public health play a critical role in preventing the forecasted shortage."

To combat this problem, ASPH calls for increased federal investment in public health education and training; a centralized effort to understand current and future workforce needs; increased recruitment; additional training and fellowship programs; financial aid assistance; and expanded graduate-level programs.

The assessment is available at http://www.asph.org/shortage.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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