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Salaries and Compensation Practices in Public Health, Environmental, and Agricultural Laboratories: Findings From a 2010 National Survey

DeBoy, John M. DrPH, MPH; Boulton, Matthew L. MD, MPH; Carpenter, David F. PhD

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice: May/June 2013 - Volume 19 - Issue 3 - p 199–204
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e318252eec2
Original Articles

Context: The public health, environmental, and agricultural laboratory (PHEAL) workforce is a key component of the public health infrastructure. The national laboratory workforce faces an ongoing challenge of recruitment and retention of workers often related to pay and other compensation issues.

Objective: To collect information on laboratory salaries and laboratory compensation practices using a national compensation survey targeting the PHEAL workforce.

Participants: Seventy-three of 109 (67%) PHEAL directors in the 50 states and District of Columbia collectively employ 3723/4830 (77%) PHEAL employees in the United States.

Methods: A standardized survey was developed and administered in 2010. Compensation data were compiled by job classification, geographic region, laboratory gross operating budget size, laboratory staff size, and laboratory type.

Results: Laboratory staff size ranged from 3 to 327 individuals (mean = 74 and median = 51). Median base salaries were lowest in the Southwest and South and highest in the Mountain and Pacific regions. Mean and median laboratory gross operating budgets for all participating PHEALs were $8 609 238 and $5 671 500, respectively. Extra cash compensation, used by 8 of 60 (13.3%) PHEALs, was more likely to go to a scientist-manager or scientist-supervisor.

Conclusions: In 2010, a standardized national compensation survey of technical and scientific public health employees working in 73 PHEALs was effective in collecting previously unavailable data about laboratory salaries, laboratory budgets, and payroll practices. Laboratory salaries varied by geographic region and there was an uneven distribution of extra cash compensation among job classifications. The compensation data collected may be useful in characterizing and improving laboratory salary structures and practices to better support workforce recruitment and retention.

The study aimed to collect information on laboratory salaries and laboratory compensation practices using a national compensation survey targeting the public health, environmental, and agricultural laboratory workforce.

Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Baltimore; and Association of Public Health Laboratories, Silver Spring, Maryland (Dr DeBoy); Center of Excellence for Public Health Workforce Studies, School of Public Health, and School of Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Dr Boulton); and Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, Southern Illinois University, Springfield (Dr Carpenter).

Correspondence: John M. DeBoy, DrPH, MPH, 9477 Keepsake Way, Columbia, MD 21046 (

This research was supported by Cooperative Agreement U60/CDC303019 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The contents of this article are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authors thank the many laboratory directors who participated in this study; Judith Stein and Jonathan Covington at Quatt Associates, Inc for assistance in survey design, data collection, and data compilation; and Kris Peters, Douglas McNamara, Deborah Kim, MPH, and Eva Perlman, MPH, at the Association of Public Health Laboratories for providing comments on drafts of the survey instrument and for administrative support.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.