The public health workforce is a vital part of the public health system. Protection of the public’s health depends on maintaining a sufficient number of workers capable of delivering essential public health services. The recruitment of qualified and capable individuals into the field of public health and the retention of these individuals within the public health workforce are two important elements public health organizations must address to fulfill their responsibilities to the public. However, time and resources for pursuing recruitment and retention efforts may be limited. In order to maximize the potential for success, ideally, recruitment and retention activities would be informed by evidence about influences on public health workers’ employment decisions.
Since 2007, the Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice
(Council on Linkages) has been collaborating with researchers, academics, and public health practitioners in efforts to ensure adequate numbers of skilled and competent workers for the future. In response to growing concern about emerging worker shortages within public health, the Council on Linkages established the Pipeline Workgroup
to identify ways to strengthen the public health workforce by better understanding how public health workers enter the workforce, their rationale for doing so, and what influences their decisions to remain working in public health. The Workgroup reviewed literature related to the public health workforce, considered existing workforce data and data sources, and convened experts from a variety of fields to share experiences addressing worker shortages. Based on the Workgroup’s exploration, in 2008, the Council on Linkages concluded that the data available on the public health workforce were insufficient for developing evidence-supported recruitment and retention strategies.
To help address this gap, in 2010, the Council on Linkages conducted a national survey
to learn more about public health workers and the factors that influence their employment decisions. This effort surveyed public health workers in the United States directly, and nearly 12,000 individuals responded, sharing information on factors that influenced their decisions to take and remain in jobs in public health, as well as their satisfaction with elements of the environments in which they worked, including organizational leadership, management, and professional development. Highlights include:
- The factors that respondents valued in making employment decisions tended to be related to aspects of organizations, particularly the specific activities involved in positions, job security, competitive benefits, and identifying with the mission of the organization
- In general, the same factors influenced respondents’ decisions to begin and continue working for employers
- Healthcare settings and private industry may provide opportunities for recruiting workers into governmental public health
- Though one-third of respondents entered governmental public health directly from educational programs, relatively few entered from public health degree programs
- While overall majorities of respondents appeared satisfied with leadership and management within their organizations, there remains room for improvement in these areas
Survey results are summarized in the Council on Linkages’ report, Recruitment and Retention: What’s Influencing the Decisions of Public Health Workers?, and can offer insights for public health policymakers, leaders, managers, and others involved in workforce recruitment and retention and support the development of "evidence-assisted" recruitment and retention strategies for the public health workforce. In addition, the dataset containing responses from the 11,640 individuals who participated in this survey is available for further research by completing the Public Health Foundation’s (PHF's) Data Use Agreement. Other resources related to recruitment and retention can be found in PHF’s Resources & Tools Library.
For more information about the Council on Linkages’ work in the areas of recruitment and retention, please contact Kathleen Amos at firstname.lastname@example.org.