Walk into a public health laboratory and, chances are, you will find a laboratory bench with open seats and an accessioning area stacked with specimens ready to be tested. In short, lots of work and not enough workers with the skills required to perform complex laboratory testing.
At public health laboratories across the country, senior scientists are retiring in record numbers while few younger professionals are entering the field. As specimens pile up and staff file out, action is vital to reverse the downward trend in the public health laboratory workforce. Yet cuts to state and local budgets have impeded or curtailed hiring in many jurisdictions, leaving under-staffed laboratories to fend as best they can.
APHL is tackling this workforce conundrum with multiple strategies. The Emerging Leader Program, the Infectious Disease Laboratory Fellowship and the STEM Recruitment Toolkit offer three examples.
Emerging Leader Program primes mid-level laboratory scientists to advance to more responsible positions by training them in managerial and leadership skills not taught in science graduate programs. The 12-month program, now in its ninth year, has proven its value. More than 40% of the graduates hold senior leadership positions, including directorships, at public health laboratories nationwide, and the program has
expanded to Africa where it is developing laboratory leaders across the continent. The US program will recruit its tenth class in July 2017.
To encourage master's-degree level scientists to pursue a career in public health laboratory science, APHL, in collaboration with CDC, sponsors a one-year, full-time fellowship at a state or local public health laboratory. This
Infectious Diseases Laboratory Fellowship offers high quality training while supporting infectious disease research in the field of Public Health.
Now APHL is targeting its most elusive but potentially most significant audience: university students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors. These science-savvy students know little, if any, about careers in public health, and public health laboratories are unknown to them. Ironically, one is often located within driving distance of their campus.
Following the lead of state and local recruitment programs, APHL is working with members to complete a toolkit that will equip public health laboratories with the resources to engage STEM majors at local colleges and universities. The strategy is to build connections with these students while they are in school and then recruit them once they graduate.
The STEM Recruitment Toolkit introduces users to public health laboratory careers with "day in the life" scenarios and information on education requirements, salaries and career advancement. It also includes:
- A guide to creating a public health laboratory career or STEM event
- Tactics for engaging state STEM leaders
- Ideas on raising public health laboratory visibility in the community
- Games, exercises and activities to explain and generate interest in laboratory science
The toolkit will be available in the fall of 2017 on the
APHL website and in a consolidated pdf version with resources essential for launching a public health laboratory STEM recruitment program.