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We improve public health and population health practice to support healthier communities
An Urgent Need for Public Health Firefighters

Date: 7/27/2021 1:11 PM

Related Categories: Workforce Development

Topic: Infrastructure, Workforce Development

Tag: Infrastructure, Performance Improvement, Preparedness, Workforce Development

Author: Ron Bialek

Ron Bialek, MPP, President, Public Health Foundation

A well-resourced, trained, and respected public health workforce is vital to our nation’s health. Unfortunately, leading into the COVID-19 pandemic, little attention had been paid to the needs of our workforce. The consequence has been millions of lives disrupted and hundreds of thousands of lives lost.

In the recent JPHMP Direct Podcast, An Urgent Call for Public Health Firefighters, C. Patrick Chaulk, MD, MPH; Jonathan Zenilman, MD; and I discuss the history of domestic disease control, the many past successes, and how we can apply lessons learned to today’s critical need to rebuild our nation’s public health workforce. Listen to our podcast, read our commentary on this topic in the May 2021 issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, and share your thoughts on how we can rebuild and sustain our workforce for many years to come. I look forward to hearing from you in the Comments section below or by email to​.


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Ron Bialek


Thank you Susan for your comment. Excellent idea. I know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) often brings former employees back as contractors. This brings in needed skills and expertise, and at the same time the retired CDC employees no longer have administrative or supervisory responsibilities. Seems to work well for CDC.

Susan Garrett


We have a large number of experienced public health professionals who retired before or during the pandemic. Many of these individuals would not be willing to work full-time in public health again, but they are a significant resource of knowledge and experience. Consideration should be given to hiring them as part-time mentors and coaches as new public health professionals are hired. This could potentially increase the retention of new staff. It is critical that public health salaries reflect the depth of expertise and responsibility the job entails. I am a nurse and nursing educator--nurses do not enter the public health field because the pay scale is not in line with other nursing positions.

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