Announcing the Consortium for Workforce Research in Public Health (CWORPH) 

This entry is part 19 of 40 in the series Wide World of Public Health Systems

There are several of these health workforce research centers in the country, but there’s never before been one for public health until now with the establishment of the Consortium for Workforce Research in Public Health (CWORPH).

Prior to the first national survey of public health employees, the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey/ PH WINS, we heard time and time again about different public health workforce training needs and the need for more public health workforce research; however, we were only hearing what the workforce needed from public health leaders. We had not yet heard directly from the workers themselves in a national context. There was, in fact, an enormous gap in knowledge about the workforce. For example, we had a sense of how many staff there were, but we did not know how many held a degree in public health. We barely knew anything about the demographics of the workforce nationally, though we knew quite a bit regionally, thanks to work by the public health training centers. We also did not know as much as we would have liked about what the public health workforce thought about their jobs, what motivated them to join the public health workforce in the first place, or how often they thought about leaving the field. Essentially, we didn’t know the very basics of what we should have known about the workforce to be able to develop strategies to support them to be effective, to retain them, or to recruit new members.

In 2014, in partnership with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the de Beaumont Foundation fielded PH WINS, which is now the only nationally representative source of data about the governmental public health workforce. In terms of gathering data and generating knowledge, PH WINS was a crucial new contribution, especially as stakeholders turned this new knowledge into action. Today, health departments across the country use PH WINS to develop and strengthen their workforce. We know how many people there are in the workforce, yes, but we also know whether and why they are thinking about staying put or leaving. These last ten years have been something of a renaissance in public health workforce research. Where Beck and Boulton and Hilliard and Boulton found a few dozen articles, respectively, in the two-and-a-half decades preceding their systematic reviews, there are many hundreds of articles across the US and internationally on the subject of public health workforce – as there should be. But there is still much more to do.

You may have seen last week that we have just announced that we were awarded the brand-new, jointly-funded HRSA and CDC Public Health Workforce Research Center. There are several of these health workforce research centers in the country — for example, there’s one for behavioral health and one for allied health— but there’s never before been one for public health until now with the establishment  of the Consortium for Workforce Research in Public Health (CWORPH). 

When we heard about this opportunity, we knew that a consortium model was the only way to approach the challenge. This included bringing together other universities and colleges, but we also knew that it needed to be the public health community who would guide us in determining where the needs are. So, we determined that it would also mean having a partner who could advise us and help set an agenda relevant to the field with practice and equity at the forefront, and for that reason the National Consortium for Public Health Workforce Development is our advisory body. We also have a number of technical and dissemination partners we are excited to announce, including: 

As we begin our work, it is worth highlighting that health inequities and the social determinants of health impact public health and the public health workforce witnesses this firsthand. Understanding how well public health workers are equipped to deal with that reality is part and parcel of the research. As such, each of our projects has one or more aims that explicitly includes a health equity research aim. 

In the first year of an initial five-year award cycle, CWORPH researchers will conduct ten projects. These projects incorporate existing data in the field including PH WINS, the ASTHO Profile Survey, the NACCHO Profile Study, and data from the Public Health Accreditation Board.

We are excited about the first year of projects. One project will examine turnover in the public health workforce, which is an important topic given that retention and turnover remain challenges for governmental public health agencies. A second project will examine the supply of workers and the pipeline for recruitment. Other studies will examine the role of community health workers and the roles of public health nurses during COVID-19. We will also conduct formative studies to characterize workforce composition following the COVID-19 pandemic and the largest influx of new public health workers in a generation. 

The public health workforce has the spotlight and Congress has invested over 10 billion dollars in funding to governmental agencies to support public health workforce development. CWORPH’s forthcoming research can support public health partners in building on this investment to grow and sustain the workforce. We plan to develop academic products that show the work that we do is rigorous and scientifically based but, at the end of the day, we want to translate our work into practice and get it into the hands of practitioners in a way that makes sense to folks’ everyday lives and to their work. CWORPH is committed to supporting public health practice. Our intention is not to merely learn from those working in health departments, but to work with them collaboratively to create products that are useful to health departments and will make an impact in communities across the nation.

We include information about CWORPH university members and a short description of  each partner’s project(s). Please reach out with questions and or suggestions. This is the first time in a long time that there is investment and interest in public health workforce research. We hope to be able to work with local, state, and national partners on these issues in the years to come.

The University of Minnesota group is housed at the Center for Public Health Systems within the School of Public Health’s Division of Health Policy and Management. Leads are JP Leider and Janette Dill. CWORPH Manager is Rachel Schulman. Research staff are Chelsey Kirkland, Harshada Karnik, and Skky Martin. UMN’s focus this year is on three projects in particular: turnover, workforce supply, and community health workers.

Heather Krasna at Columbia is focusing on occupational factors among public health professionals and standardizing occupational codes within the workforce

The East Tennessee State University group is housed at the Center for Rural Health Research within the College of Public Health. Lead is Michael Meit, and Christen Minnick and Casey Balio both serve as Research Assistant Professors. ETSU has two projects this year, one focusing on characterizing variation in workforce composition nationally, including geographically; and one focusing on career ladders in recruitment and retention.

Valerie A. Yeager, a Professor and the site PI at Indiana University, is leading two projects in the first year. One study examines workforce development plans submitted as part of public health accreditation, specifically exploring gaps identified and strategies to address those gaps. The second project is a national review of state laws governing the hiring of governmental public health employees.

The group at Johns Hopkins University is based out of the Office of Public Health Practice and Training in the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Leads are Beth Resnick and Paulani Mui. The JHU group’s project this year is focusing on how the surge in temporary staffing is or is not translating into a sustainable, permanent workforce.

The group at the University of Washington is based out of the School of Nursing. Lead is Betty Bekemeier. Manager is Greg Whitman. The UW group’s project is examining the role of public health nurses throughout COVID-19 response.

The authors thank Alison Byrne Fields for her assistance in preparation of this post.

Series Navigation<< Public Health Corps Launch: 3..2..1..Blast Off!Extra Extra, Read All About It: University Rankings Would Be Helpful Except that They Are Currently Trash >>