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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Looming Public Health Worker Shortage

A 2004 report by the American Association for State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) states that the public health departments in half of the states in the US are understaffed, and may be unable to handle widespread health crises. Because public health workers would be on the front lines in the event of a bioterror attack, the matter is one of national security as well as national health.

The report also noted that the average age of public health workers is 47, meaning that large numbers of them are nearing retirement age. Recruitment of younger workers is difficult because most public health departments can't compete with the private sector on salary. In some cases, healthcare workers can double their salary by moving from the public to the private sector.

Congress is stepping in to help alleviate the shortage by considering legislation that would forgive student loans and offer scholarships to students who commit to public health careers. As beneficial as this approach may be, it depends on students completing college programs, and the public health system might not be able to wait that long.

Source: MSNBC