A new partnership between AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recruiting and training the next generation of public health workers.
In the face of a severe understaffing crisis in the public health sector, AmeriCorps has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch the Public Health AmeriCorps program. With the goal of recruiting and training the next generation of public health workers, this innovative initiative aims to address critical gaps in the workforce and provide opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to enter the field. As the demand for public health services continues to grow, this program offers a lifeline to communities in need and a pathway to meaningful careers in public health.
A Personal Journey to Public Health
Sherry Wilson, a 38-year-old resident of DeKalb County, Georgia, has always felt drawn to public health. However, after a discouraging encounter with a doctor early in her career, she explored other job opportunities, including working at a museum exhibit and a title pawn shop. Despite these detours, Wilson’s passion for public health persisted. She returned to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in public health, and eventually found her place in the Public Health AmeriCorps program. As a community outreach specialist with the DeKalb County Board of Health, Wilson has been instrumental in planning and coordinating health screening events in her community, such as blood pressure screenings and glucose monitoring.
The Urgent Need for Public Health Workers
The public health workforce is facing a severe shortage, not only in Georgia but across the country. A recent study by the de Beaumont Foundation and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials revealed that state and local health departments need to hire an additional 80,000 people to adequately provide core public health services. This shortage poses a significant challenge, especially in the midst of a global pandemic and other public health emergencies. To address this crisis, innovative solutions are required.
Filling the Gap with Public Health AmeriCorps
Recognizing the need for a diverse range of skills and qualifications in the public health workforce, AmeriCorps has launched the Public Health AmeriCorps program. Unlike traditional public health roles that often require a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, many positions within the program do not require a college degree. This approach opens doors for individuals from communities who may not have previously seen themselves in the field of public health. By removing barriers and providing training and support, Public Health AmeriCorps offers a unique opportunity to launch careers in public health.
From COVID-19 to Mental Health Crisis Hotlines
The first cohort of Public Health AmeriCorps members began serving during the pandemic, initially focusing on COVID-19-related jobs such as testing and vaccination support. However, their roles have since expanded to address a wide range of critical needs. Members now work on the 988 mental health crisis hotline, collaborate with organizations like the American Heart Association on chronic disease prevention in underserved communities, and support mental health programs in schools. The program’s flexibility allows members to adapt to the evolving public health landscape and contribute to areas of greatest need.
Investing in the Future of Public Health
Public Health AmeriCorps was initially supported by a $400 million investment over five years from the American Rescue Plan. However, recent legislation to avoid a debt default has impacted the program’s funding, potentially jeopardizing its future. Despite this setback, the program has already made a significant impact, with approximately 3,500 Americans, including 87 Georgians, filling Public Health AmeriCorps roles. The program offers an annual salary of $28,800, health care benefits, and an award to help cover student loans or future education costs. These incentives aim to attract and retain individuals in the public health field.
The Public Health AmeriCorps program is a vital and innovative initiative that addresses the urgent need for more public health workers. By recruiting and training individuals from diverse backgrounds, the program fills critical gaps in the workforce and provides opportunities for meaningful careers in public health. While challenges remain, including the need for higher salaries to compete with the private sector, the program has already shown its potential to make a difference. As the public health landscape continues to evolve, the continued support and investment in programs like Public Health AmeriCorps are essential to building a resilient and effective public health workforce.