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Am J Prev Med. 2012 May;42(5 Suppl 1):S17-28. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.01.031.

Public health workforce research in review: a 25-year retrospective.

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Department of Psychosocial and Community Health, Public Health - Seattle & King County, and University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.



The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation commissioned a systematic review of public health workforce literature in fall 2010. This paper reviews public health workforce articles published from 1985 to 2010 that support development of a public health workforce research agenda, and address four public health workforce research themes: (1) diversity; (2) recruitment, retention, separation, and retirement; (3) education, training, and credentialing; and (4) pay, promotion, performance, and job satisfaction.


PubMed, ERIC, and Web of Science databases were used to search for articles; Google search engine was used to identify gray literature. The study used the following inclusion criteria: (1) articles written in English published in the U.S.; (2) the main theme(s) of the article relate to at least one of the four public health workforce research themes; and (3) the document focuses on the domestic public health workforce.


The literature suggests that the U.S. public health workforce is facing several urgent priorities that should be addressed, including: (1) developing an ethnically/racially diverse membership to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse nation; (2) recruiting and retaining highly trained, well-prepared employees, and succession planning to replace retirees; (3) building public health workforce infrastructure while also confronting a major shortage in the public health workforce, through increased education, training, and credentialing; and (4) ensuring competitive salaries, opportunities for career advancement, standards for workplace performance, and fostering organizational cultures which generate high levels of job satisfaction for effective delivery of services.


Additional research is needed in all four thematic areas reviewed to develop well-informed, evidence-based strategies for effectively addressing critical issues facing the public health workforce.

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