Educational attainment of the public health workforce and its implications for workforce development

Jonathon P. Leider, Elizabeth Harper, Kiran Bharthapudi, Brian C. Castrucci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Context: Educational attainment is a critical issue in public health workforce development. However, relatively little is known about the actual attainment of staff in state health agencies (SHAs). Objective: Ascertain the levels of educational attainment among SHA employees, as well as the correlates of attainment. Design: Using a stratified sampling approaching, staff from SHAs were surveyed using the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS) instrument in late 2014. A nationally representative sample was drawn across 5 geographic (paired adjacent HHS) regions. Descriptive and inferential statistics were analyzed using balanced repeated replication weights to account for complex sampling. A logistic regression was conducted with attainment of a bachelor's degree as the dependent variable and age, region, supervisory status, race/ethnicity, gender, and staff type as independent variables. Setting and Participants: Web-based survey of SHA central office employees. Main Outcome Measure: Educational attainment overall, as well as receipt of a degree with a major in public health. Results: A total of 10 246 permanently-employed SHA central office staff participated in the survey (response rate 46%). Seventy-five percent (95% confidence interval [CI], 74-77) had a bachelor's degree, 38% (95% CI, 37-40) had a master's degree, and 9% (95% CI, 8%-10%) had a doctoral degree. A logistic regression showed Asian staff had the highest odds of having a bachelor's degree (odds ratio [OR] = 2.8; 95% CI, 2.2-3.7) compared with non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanic/Latino staff had lower odds (OR = 0.6; 95% CI, 0.4-0.8). Women had lower odds of having a bachelor's degree than men (OR = 0.5; 95% CI, 0.4-0.6). About 17% of the workforce (95% CI, 16-18) had a degree in public health at any level. Conclusions: Educational attainment among SHA central office staff is high, but relatively few have formal training of any sort in public health. This makes efforts to increase availability of on-the-job training and distance learning all the more critical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S56-S68
JournalJournal of Public Health Management and Practice
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2015 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc.


  • Educational attainment
  • Governmental public health
  • Public health education
  • Public health workforce
  • Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS)
  • Workforce development


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