The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health has received nearly $1.5 million in federal funding designed to support the school’s graduate students, in large part to reinforce the importance of the United States’ public health workforce.
“COVID-19 has put an enormous strain on our public health workforce,” said Dr. Ron Brookmeyer, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health dean and distinguished professor of biostatistics. “We need to increase the size and diversity of the public health student pipeline in the United States. This new federal funding will assist our students, who are the next generation of public health leaders, and ensure that our country, and global community, is better positioned to prevent and address future epidemics and pandemics.”
The $1,499,992 grant is from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HR&SA), itself part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The award will extend from 2022 to 2025, and help sustain the UCLA Fielding School’s Public Health Scholarship Program, itself designed to increase the workforce capacity in public health systems to meet core public health functions and to decrease public health inequalities and health disparities across the region.
“This funding will support the recruitment and training of an estimated 70 master’s degree students, prioritizing students from disadvantaged backgrounds with demonstrated financial need as well as targeting working professionals pursuing a graduate degree,” said Dr. Yifang Zhu, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health senior associate dean for academic programs and professor of environmental health sciences, and the principal investigator of the grant. “This is key to educating the public health workforce to prevent, prepare for, and respond to recovery activities related to COVID-19, as well as other public health emergencies.”
Since 2009, more than 40,000 positions in public health agencies across the United States - which handle everything from case investigation and contact tracing in a crisis to protecting people from food and occupational hazards - have been lost, equating to more than one-fifth of the entire workforce. As of 2017, research found that nearly half of public health workers were planning to leave or retire within five years. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated workforce issues, with 2020 research finding that one-third of public health staff aged 33 years and younger were considering leaving their organization.
“This funding will support students in all five of our academic departments, and will include internships and similar practice- based learning experiences at state, territorial, tribal, or local health departments,” said Dr. Alina Dorian, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health associate dean for public health practice and assistant professor of community health sciences. “This is the type of partnership between federal, state, and local organizations that will enhance Californians’ safety from known and unknown public health threats today and in the future.”
The goals of the HR&SA grant are to recruit and train master’s degree students in public health, prioritizing students from disadvantaged backgrounds; support students to receive mentored internships / practice-based learning experiences at state or local health departments and / or organizations serving Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs); and support graduates with job placement post-training in public health-related organizations across the region.
MUAs in California include much of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, as well as parts of Orange County, and extend across the state, according to the California Health and Human Services department.