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United States Faces Severe Shortage of Public Health Workers
UT School of Public Health Dean Says Shortage Could Affect Ability To Respond to Local and Regional Disasters
While natural disasters, the threat of bioterrorism and complications from obesity are taking their toll on public health resources, the United States is facing a major public health work force crisis, according to an assessment released today by the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH).
The ASPH estimates that 250,000 additional public health workers are needed by 2020. The University of Texas School of Public Health, which includes its main campus in Houston and five regional campuses in Austin, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio, is a member of the ASPH.
The crisis is a culmination of already documented and forecasted shortages of public health physicians, public health nurses, epidemiologists, health care educators and administrators and other contributing factors such as an expected spike in retirement. In fact, 23 percent of the current work force - almost 110,000 workers - will become eligible to retire during the next presidential term.
The UT School of Public Health is one of the largest in the country. It is ranked ninth among 40 public health schools in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and ninth in the number of students and faculty.
"In Houston as well as several other cities in Texas, the importance of public health workers was dramatically illustrated by the emergencies created by the influx of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina," said Guy S. Parcel, Ph.D., dean of the UT School of Public Health. "The health care needs and the control of infectious diseases were effectively addressed because of the leadership of public health workers at the Texas Department of State Health Services and the local city and county health departments. With the annual threat of major storms reaching the Gulf Coast, Texas cannot afford to be unprepared to respond to protecting the health of the public when emergencies arise."
Given the growing complexity of public health challenges, more specialists will need to be trained in additional public health sub-disciplines, the ASPH said. Additionally, in the era of globalization, it believes the U.S. public health work force needs to be adequately prepared to handle health threats that often arise from beyond U.S. borders.
In order to address these significant shortages, ASPH is calling for an increased federal investment in public health education and training in addition to the coordination of a centralized enumeration effort to adequately understand current and future work force needs.
"The University of Texas School of Public Health has been preparing to respond to the current and expected increase in the shortage of trained public health work force by expanding student enrollment," Parcel said. "Graduates are being prepared to address critical health needs in Texas such as the emerging epidemics of obesity and diabetes, prevention of heart disease, cancer, infectious diseases, substance abuse and improvement in air quality, access to health care, and tobacco control."
The school, which currently enrolls 940 students, has set an enrollment goal of 1,200 students by 2013.
"To better address the projected shortage of public health workers, the schools of public health in Texas will need substantial increased support to recruit more faculty, provide scholarships for students and assist state and local health departments with epidemiological studies, program evaluations and health policy development," Parcel said.
Increased recruitment, training and fellowship programs, financial aid assistance and expanded graduate- level opportunities are among the most urgent needs for averting this looming crisis, the ASPH said. According to the analysis, schools of public health will have to graduate three times as many public health workers over the next 12 years in order to meet the health care needs of the world in 2020.
A complete copy of the assessment is available online at http://www.asph.org/document.cfm?page=1038.
By Deborah Mann Lake, Institutional Advancement
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