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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 28, 2008

Report: major shortage of public health workers projected for Iowa, U.S. by 2020

While natural disasters, the threat of bioterrorism and other health threats have drawn increased attention to the role of public health, Iowa and other states face a looming public health workforce shortage unless immediate steps are taken to recruit and train the next generation of public health professionals, according to a new report by the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH).

Based on population projections and workforce estimates, the ASPH report says Iowa will be short more than 4,250 public health workers by 2020. Nationwide, more than 250,000 additional public health workers will be needed by this time, according to the study.

"This first-of-its-kind assessment highlights an emerging crisis for Iowa and the nation," said Dr. James Merchant, dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health. "As society tries to confront the immediate health challenges of tobacco use, heart disease, obesity and physical inactivity and prepares for an array of threats such as global infectious diseases, a well-trained public health workforce is critical for an effective response."

The crisis is a culmination of already documented and forecast 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 workforce -- almost 110,000 workers -- will become eligible to retire by 2012.

"With more than 25 percent of our staff between the ages of 55 and 64, the state health department is headed toward a real loss of public health expertise over the next 10 years," said Iowa Department of Public Health Director Tom Newton. "Unless there is a significant increase in the number of trained public health workers in Iowa, this shortfall could seriously impact our ability to promote and protect the health of Iowans."

Leading public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Public Health Association, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and the Institute of Medicine, agree that the current workforce is inadequate to meet the needs of the U.S. and global populations.

Given the growing complexity of public health challenges, more specialists will need to be trained in additional public health sub-disciplines. Furthermore, in the era of globalization, the U.S. public health workforce needs to be adequately prepared to handle health threats that often arise internationally.

In order to address these significant shortages, ASPH is calling for an increased federal investment in public health education and training.

"In recent months we have seen significant reductions in the federal support for the recruitment and development of the public health workforce that began after 9/11," said Christopher Atchison, director of the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory and UI College of Public Health associate dean for public health practice. "It is shortsighted to assume that in a matter of a few years we have built an inexhaustible supply of workers. We face a critical shortage of professionals who protect the health of Iowans through disease detection, newborn screening and environmental health programs."

The ASPH report also notes that increased recruitment, training and fellowship programs, financial aid assistance, and expanded graduate-level opportunities are among the most urgent needs for averting a workforce shortage. 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

ASPH represents the 40 Council on Education for Public Health-accredited schools of public health in North America. ASPH promotes the efforts of schools of public health to improve the health of every person through education, research and policy.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACTS: Debra Venzke, College of Public Health Office of Communications and External Relations, 319-335-9647,; Pat Blake, University Hygienic Laboratory, 319-335-4177,