Public Health Workforce Development Strategies

The Division of Scientific Education and Professional Development (DSEPD) strengthens and develops the public health workforce—America’s first line of defense against disease outbreaks and other health threats​.

Workforce Development Has Fallen Behind

Decades of underinvestment has undermined the public health workforce. With diminished funding, state and local health departments have not been able to attract, recruit, and retain the number of professionals with skills needed to respond to health threats. With shrinking numbers and reduced capacity, workforce development has fallen behind across public health, resulting in several challenges, including:

  • Lagging skills among workers due to changes in technology
  • A lack of systems and data to assess and monitor workforce needs
  • Hiring barriers that exist at federal, state, and local levels

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the consequences of this underinvestment, and the critical need for a strong and diverse public health workforce. Increased funding recently distributed to DSEPD—from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, American Rescue Plan, and others—expands our resources for workforce development activities.

Taking Steps Now Prepares Us for the Future

The steps we take now will have an impact for years to come. Those who we inspire now to pursue careers in public health will be the public health leaders of tomorrow, ready to address the challenges of the future.

DSEPD takes an evidence-based and collaborative approach to strengthening and developing the public health workforce. Our activities support COVID-19 and future emergency responses, data modernization, and diversity, equity, and inclusion in public health. We focus on proactive program planning and development so that we are ready to respond when new needs arise, building on our existing programs, experiences, and lessons learned.

Our approach is guided by three strategies: recruit, train, and forecast.

Recruit: Attract a More Diverse and Qualified Public Health Sciences Workforce

Our division offers many full-time fellowships that span public health topics—from epidemiology to health economics. We use modern recruitment tools and methods to better reach candidates with a background or interest in data science, as well as candidates from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Our fellowships serve as a pathway for leadership positions at CDC and other public health agencies, so strengthening the diversity of today’s fellows leads to more inclusive public health leadership tomorrow.

Train: Build the Skills of the Current and Future Workforce

We train fellows and build the skills of existing staff to ensure our public health workforce is prepared to protect every community across the United States. Fellows are assigned to CDC programs and public health partner organizations, where they receive training and mentoring, strengthen applied public health and data science skills, and provide public health service during their assignments.

We work with our partners to expand fellowship and training activities. Examples include:

  • Implementing the Data Science Upskilling program to provide an applied learning environment in data science for CDC staff and fellows to support high-priority data modernization projects.
  • Implementing an infectious disease modeling track in the Prevention Effectiveness Fellowship.
  • Expanding the Epidemiology Elective Program to place more medical and veterinary students at state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments.
  • Partnering with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists to place more applied epidemiology and data science fellows in state and local health departments.

These upskilling programs use best practices for adult learning. Training is specific to a learner’s needs and immediately applied to their work. All of their projects address data modernization or other agency priorities.

We reach the broader public health workforce through TRAIN—a unique learning management system shared by local, state, federal, non-profit, and tribal public health agencies to train the public health workforce. ​TRAIN has more than 3.3 million registered learners, and 90% of CDC’s centers, institutes, and offices list trainings there. DSEPD provides a doorway into this system. TRAIN makes it possible to rapidly share trainings during public health emergencies. For example,​ we were able to quickly build four training plans for COVID-19 responders, covering COVID-19 vaccination, case investigation and contact tracing, healthcare infection control, and testing. ​

Forecast: Plan for Tomorrow’s Workforce through Our Actions Today

To be effective as an agency, we need to be proactive in planning for tomorrow’s workforce through our actions today. That’s why we employ forecasting—using workforce data to make evidence-based decisions. To support our forecasting activities, DSEPD follows a continuous quality improvement model. We are upgrading and modernizing our approach, analytics, and systems to support evidence-based workforce development strategies. For example, we:

  • Collect and analyze workforce data to forecast future needs.
  • Increase IT systems support and functionality to improve forecasting activities.
  • Conduct evaluation so that effective programs can be expanded, less successful programs can implement evidence-based improvements, and ongoing forecasting can be refined.

Learn More

The American Rescue Plan outlines a way forward to bridge, build, and sustain the state and local public health workforce.