How has the Pandemic Affected Public Health School Enrollment and What Impact Will This Have on Public Health Workforce Shortages?

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By Pooja Gandhi, MPH, CHES and Keri Van Fleteren, Director of Human Resources

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, interest in the field of public health and enrollment in graduate public health programs have seen substantial increases. The pandemic and the increasing dialogue around race, in general, affected young people of color disproportionally (Tampa Bay Times). Additionally, young people impacted by the pandemic have turned to public health to join causes they are committed to and passionate related to social justice, climate change, and other public health-related causes. Through the field of public health, young people aim to address racial inequities and other injustices that have been highlighted by this pandemic (CNN, Stat).

Nationwide, universities have seen up to 40% more public health school applications when accounting for both undergraduate and graduate programs focused on public health (Fortune Education, ASPH), while others have seen as much as a doubling of applications (The Brown Daily Herald, Brown University). Application rates from students in communities of color (Black, Hispanic, and Latinx), in particular, have increased as well (CNN). University of South Florida, for example, noted a higher interest among African American students. At Brown University, applicants from students identifying as Black and Latinx, have more than doubled (187% and 137% respectively) (The Brown Daily Herald, Brown University).   

While this increase in enrollment in public health programs is encouraging, it will take some time for those professionals to enter the workforce and gain the experience needed to lead initiatives and respond to public health crises. Additionally, the recent trend of high turnover throughout the US (the so-called “Great Resignation”) has put a strain on organizations that need to increase their recruitment and training efforts to maintain staff levels. As of February 2023, the unemployment rate has edged up only slightly to 3.6%.  This indicates that the labor market is still tight (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023). Additionally, the ongoing retirement of the large Baby Boomer generation, has 10,000 people turning 65 each day in the US for the next 10 years. The entire generation will be over the age of 65 by 2030 (US Census Bureau). This will also contribute to a shortage of higher- experienced professionals.  

So, what can we do in the meantime? One strategy is to look at professionals already in the workforce who may want to make a career change – “public health jobs especially suit healthcare professionals with passions outside of clinical medicine, such as anthropology, statistics, or epidemiology” ( As “one in five physicians say it is likely they will leave their current practice within two years” (, 2022), public health could benefit from talent that wants to give back in a new way.  In 2021, the White House committed an additional $7.4 billion in public health investments, which should create more opportunities than ever for individuals to work in public health in positions, ranging from economists to health education specialists. With some creativity on the part of public health employers, these jobs can provide a new and fulfilling career for other industry professionals who may be able to lend their expertise to the expanding field of public health. 


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