Public Health Departments Have New Workforce Funding: Time to Dust Off Those Job Descriptions

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series September 2023

Health departments have new funding for recruitment, but their job descriptions need a makeover.

One hundred seven public health departments around the country recently received a total of around $3 billion in funding to bolster their workforce. That means many health departments will be recruiting new hires, an opportunity they might not have had for several years. A commonly overlooked, but essential tool for recruitment is a well-written job description and attractive job posting. The Region 5 Public Health Training Center has launched a new resource, the Public Health Model Job Descriptions Project, to help health departments more easily access evidence-based, attractive job descriptions and job advertisements, and a new publication describes how we created them.

Health departments can face many barriers to recruitment, including political barriers to even using the new workforce funding, lengthy civil service hiring processes, and relatively low wages. But with attractive, accurate job descriptions as well as job postings, along with other new recruitment and retention tools like the Region 2 Public Health Training Center Recruiting Toolkit, full recruitment training series now available on TRAIN, and groundbreaking website, health departments have new, essential tools for recruiting candidates in a competitive job market.

Why job descriptions?

When’s the last time you took a hard look at your health department’s job descriptions? Sure, job descriptions aren’t meant to be deathless prose. They can serve many purposes, but one key function of a job description is to communicate to job applicants what the role entails, the essential functions, knowledge, skills and abilities of the job, the candidate requirements, the benefits of applying, and how to submit an application. They must also follow civil service rules and regulations, as well as EEO, ADA, and other employment laws. But did you know that a well-written job description can be one of the most important parts of attracting the right candidates for the job?

In a collaboration between Columbia University School of Public Health and the Region Five Public Health Training Center, we led an effort to jumpstart the process of rejuvenating and modernizing health department job descriptions. We prioritized 24 jobs that exist in health departments, then reviewed numerous posted job descriptions for each one, gathering data from and Lightcast, a large-scale job postings data set. We gathered information on any existing job task analyses, certification requirements, “bodies of knowledge” and descriptions from the US Department of Labor’s O*Net Online system; and we reviewed the top priority skills identified by respondents to the 2014 National Board of Public Health Examiners public health job task analysis for each job title. We synthesized the information to create consistently formatted job descriptions, then sent them to people working in each of these jobs for their review and feedback. Finally, we created attractive job postings/advertisements with the help of an employment marketing company, ensuring the job postings would work well for Search Engine Optimization and were devoid of any language that might discourage diverse candidates from applying.

It’s not always possible to easily update job descriptions in certain jurisdictions, and the job descriptions are not meant to provide legal guidance. The job descriptions are also meant as general templates, to be adapted to the particular job level and program area for each employee, so health departments are encouraged to adapt the job descriptions for their own use. Additionally, using the job advertisements to attract candidates to apply for opportunities can help generate more applicants for positions.

Read our article in JPHMP

One of the unique results of the project is that, through the research process, we compiled a list of the existing job task analyses, credentials, and bodies of knowledge for a range of jobs that exist in health departments. A compilation of these resources has not apparently been available in one place before. In future, a more thorough analysis of these job task analyses could be helpful to determining which core competencies and strategic skills are truly needed for each of the more than 70 different job functions that exist in health departments.

Job descriptions don’t have to be dazzling works of literature, but they do need to accurately describe the essential functions of the job. With this new resource, we hope health departments will have one more advantage when hiring candidates to improve the public’s health.

This project is supported in part by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number UB6HP31684 Public Health Training Centers ($924,899) at the University of Michigan, as well as the Center for Public Health Systems at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.

Author Profile

Heather Krasna
Heather Krasna, PhD, EdM, MS, is Associate Dean of Career and Professional Development at Columbia University School of Public Health and a co-author of the book 101+ Careers in Public Health (3rd Ed.). She is a public health workforce researcher, consultant, and advocate, and career development specialist.
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